Lightheadedness and dizziness accompanied by a sensation that the room is spinning, called vertigo, has many causes. Dizziness alone does not constitute vertigo--by definition, the dizziness and/or lightheadedness must be accompanied by the spinning or movement sensation. The symptoms of vertigo range from annoying to crippling and are experienced by some as a temporary condition but is permanent in others. The most common cause is a disturbance in the vestibular system, which consists of the inner ear, vestibular nerve and the brain.
Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo
One of the most common causes of vertigo, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV, occurs most often in people over age 60, the Mayo Clinic states. Changing position or turning the head a certain way triggers intense but brief episodes of dizziness, lightheadedness and vertigo that usually last less than a minute. Nausea, loss of balance, blurred vision and vomiting may also occur. Around 50 percent of the time, no cause is known, but head injury or damage to the inner ear can cause BPPV. Treatment consists of canalith repositioning, which moves particles in the inner ear by slowly changing head positions under a physician’s direction. Surgery to block off the offending part of the inner ear decreases BPPV in 90 percent of cases in which canalith repositioning fails, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Acoustic neuroma, a non-cancerous slow-growing tumor of the nerve that connects the ear and the brain, causes vertigo, dizziness, lightheadedness along with ringing in the ear, headache and numbness or pain in the face or one ear. Rarely, acoustic neuroma also causes one eye to dilate, facial drooping and drooling. Surgical removal of acoustic neuromas can lead to hearing loss and nerve damage, MedlinePlus warns.
Meniere’s disease can cause hearing loss or a roaring sound in addition to vertigo and dizziness. Problems with fluid levels in the labyrinth, part of the inner ear, cause Meniere’s disease. Around 615,000 people in the U.S. have Meniere’s disease, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communicable Disorders states. Meniere’s disease can’t be cured but symptoms may be improved by reducing fluid retention, stopping smoking and cutting down on alcohol use and taking allergy medications.
Labyrinthitis, inflammation of the inner ear structures called the labyrinths, can cause vertigo, dizziness and lightheadedness along with nausea, vomiting, hearing loss and rapid side to side eye movements called nystagmus. Bacterial or viral infections or trauma can cause labyrinthitis, which usually improves within several weeks without treatment. Bacterial infections respond to antibiotics; medications to decrease nausea may also help, the Merck Manual states.