Vertigo (Unknown Cause)

Image showing a cross-section of the external, middle, and inner ear, including the ear canal, eardrum, and eustachian tube.

In addition to helping with hearing, the inner ear is part of the balance center of your body. Problems with the inner ear can a false feeling of motion. This is called vertigo. Often, it feels as if you or the room is spinning. A vertigo attack may cause sudden nausea, vomiting and heavy sweating. Severe vertigo causes a loss of balance and can cause you to fall. During vertigo, small head movements and changes in body position will often make the symptoms worse. You may also have ringing in the ears called tinnitus.

An episode of vertigo may last seconds, minutes or hours. Once you are over the first episode, it may never come back. However, symptoms may return off and on.

The cause of your vertigo is not yet known. Possible causes of vertigo include:

  • Inflammation of the inner ear

  • Disease of the nerves to the inner ear

  • Movement of calcium particles in the inner ear

  • Poor blood flow to the balance centers of the brain

  • Migraine headaches

Home care

  • If symptoms are severe, rest quietly in bed. Change positions very slowly. There is usually one position that will feel best, such as lying on one side or lying on your back with your head slightly raised on pillows.

  • Do not drive a car or work with dangerous machinery until symptoms have been gone for at least one week.

  • Take medicine as prescribed to relieve your symptoms. Unless another medicine was prescribed for symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and dizziness, you may use over-the-counter motion sickness pills. Ask your pharmacist for suggestions.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider or as directed. If you are referred to a specialist or for testing, make the appointment promptly.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider if any of the following occur:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38ºC) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Vertigo worsens or is not controlled by prescribed medicine 

  • Repeated vomiting not relieved by prescribed medicine 

  • Severe headache

  • Confusion

  • Weakness of an arm or leg or one side of the face

  • Difficulty with speech or vision

  • Loss of consciousness 

  • Seizure

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