Vertigo vs. Dizziness: What’s the Difference?

by | Feb 27, 2024 | Balance/Dizziness

Vertigo and dizziness and imbalance, oh my!

While many people think vertigo and dizziness are the same things and even use the terms interchangeably, they are actually different conditions with slightly different sets of causes and symptoms. 

The more general of the two, dizziness, can actually describe a number of different sensations, including a loss of balance, lightheadedness, and even fainting. There are a few different causes of dizziness (which we’ll touch on later in this blog), and, although recurring or constant dizzy spells can make it hard to live a normal life, it usually doesn’t indicate a life-threatening condition.

Vertigo, on the other hand, could technically be categorized as a type of dizziness, but it presents in a very specific way. In contrast with dizziness where you yourself may feel unsteady or like your head is spinning, vertigo is the sensation of your surroundings moving around you. It’s sometimes accompanied by nausea, loss of balance, and even vomiting. 

Where dizziness and vertigo differ the most, however, is in their causes and treatments.

What causes vertigo and dizziness?

Some of the most common causes of dizziness include:

  • Circulatory Issues: If blood is not flowing to your brain and the rest of your body effectively, it may lead to dizziness or lightheadedness. Circulation problems are most often caused by a sudden blood pressure drop or poor circulation in general which leads to a decrease in blood flow.
  • Medication: Some medications, especially those that mess with hormones or cause changes in blood pressure, may lead to dizziness as a side effect. Anti-seizure drugs, antidepressants, sedatives, and blood pressure medications are some of the most common culprits of the dizziness side effect.
  • Low Blood Sugar: While anyone can experience dizziness from low blood sugar if they skip a meal or are on a carb-less diet, low blood sugar is common in diabetics who struggle to balance their blood sugar levels internally, which can lead to lightheadedness.

In contrast, vertigo is usually related to an issue with the inner ear, which is the balance center of our body. Our inner ear organs use fluid and tiny crystals called otoconia to help us stay upright and balanced and, when either are in an irregular state, it can lead to feelings of vertigo.

In addition to things like viral infections and migraine headaches, there are two core conditions related to the inner ear that can cause vertigo:

Meniere’s Disease: Though rare, one of the telling signs of Meniere’s disease is prolonged bouts of vertigo coupled with tinnitus, hearing loss, or a feeling of fullness in the ear. These symptoms are caused by a buildup of fluid in the labyrinth of the ear that doesn’t drain properly and, since the labyrinth plays a role in the vestibular (or balance) system, this excess fluid leads to vertigo.

Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV): Often confused with Meniere’s disease, BPPV is the most common type of vertigo people experience, and even simple movements like turning the head or sitting up from a lying position can trigger an episode. BPPV is caused when an ear crystal dislodges and moves to another part of the ear, throwing off the equilibrium of the vestibular system.

Whether it’s an isolated event or a consistent occurrence, both dizziness and vertigo can be disruptive to daily life, and understanding the causes is only a part of the journey to addressing the symptoms. 

How are dizziness and vertigo treated? 

If you’re experiencing dizziness or vertigo, it’s important to see a healthcare professional to get to the root cause of the sensations you’re experiencing. Your primary care physician is a good first call, but an Audiologist (like the team at Colorado Ear Care) can treat dizziness, vertigo, and imbalance, as well. 

Dizziness usually (but not always) goes away on its own, but, since dizziness can be caused by equilibrium disorders or another healthcare concern, it’s important to get some testing done if you’re experiencing consistent dizziness or your dizziness is accompanied by changes in vision or numbness. Treatment may include medication, lifestyle changes, or addressing an underlying condition.

Vertigo — especially lengthy or frequent episodes — usually requires some deeper intervention than occasional dizziness. For Meniere’s disease, vestibular rehabilitation or even hearing aids may be effective at reducing the vertigo symptoms. For BPPV, canalith repositioning is usually the go-to, and it involves moving the head into specific positions to guide the rogue ear crystals back to their original position. 

Colorado Ear Care has some of the most advanced balance and dizziness services in the state

If you struggle with vertigo or recurring bouts of dizziness, you’re not alone. The team at Colorado Ear Care has the experience and equipment required to help you on the path to feeling better. Schedule an appointment today.

Talk with one of our friendly hearing and balance professionals today.