A shower should feel relaxing and refreshing. It can be anything but, though, if you get hit with a wave of dizziness and nausea.
Turns out, this phenomenon isn't as weird or worrisome as you might think. Spending a long time standing in warm, humid air can sometimes leave people feeling weak in the knees, notes Dennis Finkielstein, MD, vice chair of cardiology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.
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Here's a closer look at why you get dizzy and nauseous in the shower and what you can do to manage the sensation the next time it hits.
Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room if dizziness and nausea is accompanied by any of the following symptoms: weakness on one side of the body, trouble with speech, fainting, chest pain, shortness of breath, blurred vision, confusion, disorientation or seizures.
1. You're Overheating
Standing in a hot, steamy shower causes your temperature to rise. In response, your body works to keep your temperature regulated, causing your blood vessels to dilate and your heart rate to slow. This can cause your blood pressure to drop, which might leave you feeling dizzy or lightheaded (i.e. like you're going to faint), Dr. Finkielstein says.
Keep things from getting too warm by taking a slightly cooler or shorter shower, recommends Dr. Finkielstein, or by leaving a window or the door open to let some cool air in.
And if you start to feel dizzy from being too warm, that's a sign it may be time to get out of the shower. Once you're out, sit down for a minute until the dizziness eases up, and try some deep breathing as a remedy for the nausea.
2. You're Standing for Too Long
Standing for long stretches, particularly in warm temperatures, can trigger vasovagal syncope, a harmless reaction marked by a sudden drop in heart rate and blood pressure that can occur when the body is stressed.
Long periods of standing cause blood to pool in your legs and feet, which temporarily reduces blood flow to your brain, explains Dr. Finkielstein. That could make you nauseous, dizzy or lightheaded, or cause you to experience blurry or tunnel vision.
Vasovagal syncope itself isn't dangerous or a sign that you have a health problem. But it can make you faint, which can cause an injury if you're in the shower, per the Mayo Clinic.
Sometimes moving your legs (like marching in place) can help ease mild dizziness, Dr. Finkielstein says. If that doesn't help, sit down as soon as you can and put your head in between your knees. That will bring more blood back to your brain so you start to feel better.
3. It's Low Blood Sugar
Low blood sugar — when the level of sugar, or glucose, in your blood drops below the healthy range — can happen anywhere, not just in the shower. In addition to feeling weak or dizzy, you might notice you feel sweaty or clammy, shaky or that your heart is racing.
People with diabetes — both types 1 and 2 — are more likely to experience low blood sugar symptoms when their blood glucose level drops below 70 mg/dL. But the problem can affect anyone, especially if you've gone several hours without eating.
In some cases, low blood sugar can also happen a few hours after eating a meal consisting mostly of refined carbohydrates (like white pasta or white bread), which can cause your blood sugar levels to quickly spike and fall, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Eat 15 grams of fast-acting carbohydrates to quickly bring your blood sugar back up, the American Diabetes Association recommends. Good options include half a banana, 4 ounces of juice or soda (not diet) or 1 tablespoon of honey.
If you have diabetes, you should check your blood sugar 15 minutes after eating. If it hasn't risen above 70 mg/dL, have 15 more grams of carbohydrates.
Seek emergency medical attention for signs of severe low blood sugar such as slurred speech, blurred vision, confusion, disorientation or seizures.
When to See a Doctor
Occasionally feeling a little dizzy and nauseous in the shower probably isn't cause for concern. But because sudden dizziness or lightheadedness can have a number of possible causes, you shouldn't ignore it if your symptoms are severe.
Let your doctor know right away if the dizziness causes you to faint, or if you also have weakness on one side of the body, or trouble with speech, Dr. Finkielstein says. These symptoms could indicate a stroke.
If your dizziness is accompanied by chest pain or shortness of breath, seek emergency medical attention.
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Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.