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When Your Child Has Vertigo

Your child is standing still, but feels like he or she is moving or spinning. This feeling is known as vertigo. Vertigo can be uncomfortable. But it’s usually not a sign of a major health problem. Vertigo can be treated so your child feels better.

Understanding the balance system

The inner ear plays a key role in helping the body keep its balance. To do this, the inner ear senses head and body position, and motion. It also works with other parts of the body, such as the eyes. The body relies on the inner ear for balance signals. Signals sent to the brain from the inner ear, eyes, and other areas help the body stay balanced. Outline side view of child's head showing inside of nose, mouth, and ear structures. Closeup shows eustachian tube, ear canal, eardrum, middle ear, and inner ear.

What causes vertigo?

The exact cause of vertigo is not always known. But if your child has an inner ear problem, the brain may be getting the wrong signals. This can lead to vertigo. The following are the most common causes of inner ear problems in children:

  • Things that cause congestion (such as colds, allergies, or sinus infection). This leads to fluid backup through the Eustachian tube, which links the ear to the sinuses.

  • Labyrinthitis, a condition caused by a viral infection of the labyrinth (a part of the inner ear).

How is vertigo diagnosed?

The health care provider will ask about your child’s overall health and symptoms. This is the main way that vertigo is diagnosed. Your child will also be examined, especially his or her head and ears. There isn’t a specific test to diagnose vertigo. In some cases, tests may be done to rule out other health problems.

How is vertigo treated?

If vertigo is caused by an inner ear problem, the health care provider may prescribe medications. They can help your child’s balance system get back to normal. The most common medications are:

  • Antihistamines to treat inner ear problems

  • Motion sickness medications (if needed)

Keep your child from activities that require balance or coordination until vertigo is gone. This includes skateboarding, riding a bike or scooter, rollerskating, or driving.

Call your child’s health care provider right away if you notice any of the following:

  • Repeated or prolonged episodes of vertigo

  • Severe vertigo (child is unable to move)

  • Vertigo along with another problem, such as ear ringing, ear pain, headache, ear stuffiness, or hearing loss

  • Fever more than 100 degrees

  • Your child appears confused or is not acting him- or herself


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