Despite your best prevention efforts — including an annual flu shot — sometimes the flu still finds you.
The influenza virus is contagious and can cause symptoms that send you straight to your bed, like fever, chills, sneezing, muscle aches, fatigue and sometimes dizziness, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Video of the Day
While common colds can make you dizzy, here's why flu dizziness is also a concern, and how to treat dizziness from the flu.
What Causes Flu Dizziness?
"The main cause of flu dizziness is dehydration," says Ian McKeag, MD, a family medicine physician at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "Some people have vomiting and diarrhea with the flu, which can cause a lot of fluid loss. And, if you're vomiting from the flu, you're likely not eating or drinking a lot of fluids to replace what was lost," he adds.
Fever, another common flu symptom, can also contribute to fluid loss and dehydration. People who have a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher lose fluid through their skin and breathe at a much higher rate than people who are healthy, which can be dehydrating, Dr. McKeag says.
When your body gets dehydrated from the flu, this can lead to a drop in blood pressure when sitting up or standing, also known as orthostatic hypotension.
"This means that people lose the ability to cope with gravitational differences, or the change from a lying down or seated position to a standing position," Dr. McKeag says. "If dehydration progresses even further, dizziness can happen even without any positional changes."
Other influenza complications, like pneumonia, a sinus infection or an ear infection, can also contribute to dizziness, says David Cutler, MD, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
That's why it's important for doctors determine the cause of dizziness and fix it, especially if it's an associated infection, he adds.
Other Symptoms of the Flu
Apart from dizziness, there are other flu symptoms to keep an eye out for. These include the following, per the CDC:
- Sore throat
- Muscle/body aches
- Nausea and vomiting (mostly in children)
If you woke up dizzy with a sore throat, or you feel chills and dizziness without a fever, you may have something other than the flu — like the common cold.
How Long Does It Take to Recover From the Flu?
Most people who get the flu will recover in a few days to less than two weeks, unless you develop a complication from the flu, like pneumonia or a sinus infection, per the CDC. Talk to your doctor if you don't feel better after two weeks.
Who Gets Flu Dizziness?
Although dizziness and other complications from the flu can happen to anyone, some people are more vulnerable than others.
According to the Mayo Clinic, this can include:
- Young children
- Older adults
- People who are pregnant
- People with weakened immune systems
- People with chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart disease
People who have the flu but take certain medications for other health issues may also feel dizziness, Dr. McKeag says. For example, some blood pressure medications, especially diuretics, can lead to dizziness when taken by someone who also has the flu.
The reason? "Certain blood pressure medications actively pull water out of the body," Dr. McKeag says. "Any medication that is a diuretic — something that's making you urinate extra fluid — can lead to dehydration quickly, which can cause feelings of dizziness."
Taking some types of antihistamines or anti-allergy medications for seasonal allergies may also cause you to feel dizzy when you also have the flu, Dr. McKeag says. This can happen especially if sedation or drowsiness is listed as a side effect.
Some other health conditions that may cause dizziness include migraine, Meniere's disease, low blood sugar, vertigo or anxiety, per the Mayo Clinic. If you already have one of these conditions and get the flu, your flu-related balance issues may be even worse. You may even get lingering dizziness after the flu, while you're body is recovering.
How to Treat Dizziness From the Flu
Thankfully, dizziness from the flu is often temporary and harmless, especially if you've already seen a doctor and you've been diagnosed with the flu, Dr. McKeag says. But, he says, it can be a cause for concern in other cases.
"If your dizziness is something that hasn't been checked out by a doctor yet, or if it's lasting longer than 10 to 15 seconds at a time, I think that definitely warrants a trip to the doctor that day, especially for children, older adults or any other people who are prone to complications from the flu," Dr. McKeag says.
Once you've been to the doctor, you can try these other home remedies to get rid of dizziness from the flu:
- Stay hydrated: Aim to get 11.5 and 15.5 cups of water per day, through drinking or water-rich foods, per the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. This could mean just taking small sips of water throughout the day, or drinking hot cups of tea to soothe your throat.
- Take pain relievers/fever reducers like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin, per Dr. Cutler.
- Try using cold compresses and fans, especially if you're warm from your fever, per Dr. Cutler.
- Take it easy: Move slowly and lie down as much as possible, to avoid a fall from dizziness, per the Brain and Spine Foundation.
- Get plenty of sleep to help you recover and strengthen your immune system, per the CDC.
Keep in mind: "If you still have a high fever despite these measures, then medical treatment must be sought to reduce a dangerous temperature elevation," Dr. Cutler adds. At that point, your doctor may also prescribe an antiviral medication to help your body fight off the virus, per the CDC.
If you're unsure whether what you're feeling is normal, it's best to call your doctor with any concerns related to flu dizziness.
When to See a Doctor
When it comes to the flu, the best remedy is often just riding out the virus while managing symptoms.
But if you've already been diagnosed with the flu and continue to have a fever, chills or dizziness after two weeks, call your doctor back. You may have developed a secondary complication from the flu — like an infection that needs antibiotic treatment.
Your doctor can figure out what's going on and get you on the path to feeling better.
How long is the flu contagious for?
Of all the flu statistics and facts to know, one of the most important is that the flu is highly contagious. You are typically most contagious three to four days after your illness begins. But some otherwise healthy adults may be able to infect others one day before symptoms start, and up to five to seven days after getting sick, per the CDC.
Does the flu cause a loss of appetite?
Some of the symptoms of the flu can cause loss of appetite. For example, a sore throat may make it difficult to swallow certain foods, while nausea and vomiting might cause you to feel less hungry. If you don't have an appetite, try sipping on warm broth or watery soups, whole grains like toast, soft foods like puréed apple or banana and plenty of water.
Can the flu cause vertigo?
The flu can cause temporary dizziness from dehydration or other underlying issues, as we've learned. But it's also possible to get a case of vertigo (dizziness) after you've recovered from the flu, from a secondary inner ear infection called labyrinthitis, per Penn Medicine. This infection usually starts after the flu or a cold, and may need to be treated with antibiotics, antiviral medication or steroids, per the Cleveland Clinic.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Flu Symptoms & Complications"
- Mayo Clinic: "Flu Symptoms: Should I See My Doctor?"
- Ian McKeag, MD, family medicine physician, University of Alabama, Birmingham
- David Cutler, MD, family medicine physician, Saint John’s Health Center, Santa Monica, California
- CDC: "Seasonal Flu Vaccines"
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine: "Report Sets Dietary Intake Levels for Water, Salt, and Potassium To Maintain Health and Reduce Chronic Disease Risk"
- Brain and Spine Foundation: "Dizziness and Balance Problems"
- CDC: "Healthy Habits to Help Protect Against Flu"
- CDC: "Key Facts About Influenza"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Labyrinthitis"
- Penn Medicine: "Dizziness"
- CDC: "What You Should Know About Flu Antiviral Drugs"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dizziness Causes"
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.