The Unsettling Feeling of Dizziness

Feeling dizzy or lightheaded, like you might fall if you don’t sit down, can be quite scary. These sensations may become increasingly common with age. Sometimes, the reasons and the solutions are simple. Other times, the symptoms call for a visit to a physician.

For example, drinking alcohol, even a little bit, can be enough to make some people feel woozy. The body metabolizes alcohol more slowly with age. Because of this the percentage of alcohol in your system will be higher than it was when you were younger, even if you drink the same amount. That can lead to feeling tipsy more quickly. If that’s your situation, there are plenty of solutions: You can swap alcoholic beverages for nonalcoholic choices, dilute your beverages, and avoid drinking on an empty stomach.


Dizziness can be caused by:

➢ Alcohol

➢ Medications, supplements

➢ Dehydration

➢ Low blood sugar

➢ Fatigue

➢ Hunger

➢ Inner ear crystal misalignment

➢ Fluid buildup

➢ Infections

Dehydration, poor sleep, hunger, low blood pressure, and low blood sugar can cause dizziness. Some medications and even supplements may make you drowsy. In fact, discussing your prescribed and over-the-counter meds is usually the first thing physicians will investigate when patients report feeling dizzy.

When to Seek Urgent Care

“As common as dizziness is, it is important to recognize when to seek medical care right away,” says geriatrician Maija Sanna, MD, UCLA Medical Center. “For example, dizziness associated with passing out or chest pain can be related to a serious heart problem. If a severe headache, double vision, trouble speaking, difficulty walking, weakness, numbness or tingling accompanies the dizziness, it could be a sign of a serious neurological problem. Fever or vomiting that does not go away is another indication you should seek medical treatment urgently.”

If your dizziness is not associated with the aforementioned symptoms but continues to come and go, Dr. Sanna recommends that you still make an appointment with your primary care doctor so he or she can get to the root of the problem.

As you can see, dizziness can have many causes. Among the most common reasons for it, however, are balance disorders resulting from inner ear dysfunctions. While these don’t typically require urgent care, seeking treatment as soon as possible may eliminate or greatly reduce the problem.

“Chronic dizziness can be debilitating and have a significant impact on one’s quality of life,” says Dr. Sanna. “Untreated dizziness can increase your risk of falls and injury. Of equal importance to finding the cause of the dizziness is coming up with a treatment plan to improve symptoms.”

Balance Disorders of the Inner Ear

The vestibular system, located in the inner ear, is responsible for balance. Vertigo and dizziness are major signs that there may be a dysfunction in that system.

Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is brought on by specific head movements which cause crystals in the inner ear to move into the wrong position. These crystals can be repositioned with specific head maneuvers. This simple and painless treatment can be done by a physician or physical therapist. Patients can also learn how to do the maneuvers at home.

Meniere’s disease is thought to be caused by a buildup of fluid in the ear, causing recurrent spells of vertigo, ringing in the ear (tinnitus) and hearing loss. These episodes usually last more than 20 minutes. Treatment often involves the use of diuretics and a low-sodium diet.

Vestibular neuronitis and ­labyrinthitis result from inner ear viral infections (sometimes bacterial) that inflame the nerves that connect the inner ear to the brain. These disorders can cause spinning symptoms, which can be mild or severe and can last for several days to weeks. Steroids are occasionally prescribed to relieve symptoms.

Diagnosing Disorders

Diagnosing balance disorders can be challenging and may require a visit to a specialist. You may be referred to an otolaryngologist, a specialist in diseases and disorders of the ear, nose, neck and throat, or an audio­logist, an expert in the function of the hearing and vestibular systems.

To prepare for appointments, take note of when and what may cause your dizziness, for example, does it occur upon standing, do specific motions cause it, do you have pressure in your ears, and/or is your vision blurred? This kind of information can help physicians narrow down the cause and offer appropriate treatments.

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