A staggering two million people visit their doctors for dizziness, myself included, making it one of the most common health complaints. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old, dizziness can affect anyone. Lucky for us, the Mayo Clinic says it’s not usually an indicator of an underlying serious medical condition.
There are different kinds of dizziness. According to Dr. Terry Fife, dizziness that feels like the world is spinning can be a result of inner ear problems, such as injuries, viral infections, inflammation, and bleeding. This is called vertigo. If you don’t have an inner ear issue, dizziness can occur for other reasons. Poor blood circulation is a common culprit, or it could be a side effect from medicines you may be taking. Another cause is orthostatic hypotension, in which your blood pressure has a tendency to drop when you’re sitting up or if you get up quickly.
Now that we know a little about what causes it, let’s find out how to treat it.
For starters, if you feel like you are about to have a dizzy spell, stop moving right away. Stay perfectly still for a couple minutes so your blood pressure and your equilibrium can even out. If you were standing, sit down. Dizziness usually hits when you are standing up or moving around. Sitting will usually help calm the spinning, plus it’s safer in the event that you do fall. The spinning you feel happens because your brain is trying to deal with mixed signals. Your eyes see the world moving, but your body knows you’re not, which tends to make everything worse. Touch something that is close by. This will help your senses realize that you are not spinning, contrary to what your eyes are telling you.
To try to prevent dizziness, look up the Epley maneuver. This head and neck tilting exercise takes only a minute, and has helped 94% of test subjects find relief after only one week. To learn how to do it, watch one of these videos. If you have orthostatic hypotension, your dizziness may come from reduced blood flow to the brain because it pools in your legs and feet. Flex your legs before standing up to get the blood moving again. Moving quickly can also wreak havoc on your blood pressure, so get up in stages. Don’t go from lying or sitting to standing and walking in one fell swoop. From bed, sit up slowly, then put your feet on the floor, then relax for a moment before slowly standing. From sitting, move to the edge of the seat and then proceed as just described.
Dizziness can cause people to fall down, which can cause injuries, especially in older patients. If the dizziness is severe enough, the fear of falling can become so intense that people stop being physically active, says Dr. Fife. Your brain then becomes out of practice with keeping your balance, which actually increases your risk of falling. Dr. Joshua Hoffman says you should stay active – walk, shop, jog, ride bikes, etc.
Keep a dizzy diary. I know that sounds silly, but knowing what causes your dizziness will make it easier to deal with. For some people, it’s always when they get out of bed, for others, it can be temperature changes. Sometimes it’s hunger, or showering with too-hot water (my trigger). Know what sets your spinning off, and you’ll be able to take measures to head it off at the pass. And while those four-inch heels may perfectly match your little black dress, they aren’t going to be your friend if your dizziness strikes. Wearing flat shoes is not only safer, it helps your brain read your posture better, which can help keep your equilibrium in check and your feet on the floor.
At home, there are many things you can do to help yourself. I know it sounds like common sense, but tuck electrical wires away. They are a trip hazard for anyone, but even worse for someone combating dizziness. Another thing you should do is use night-lights. Darkness keeps your brain from properly orienting your body, and makes dizziness more likely. And I know it feels wonderful on your aching feet, but skip the thick plush carpeting. It makes it harder for your feet to register changes in your position and posture, which confuses your brain. (This is similar to babies learning to walk – research shows they learn better in bare feet because shoes minimize contact with the walking surface.)
Other things you can do at home include getting nonskid mats and rugs for all of your showers and tubs, as well as your bathroom and kitchen floors. They won’t keep you from getting dizzy, but can help keep you from slipping if the spinning takes over. Be extra careful in the bathroom because the wet surfaces and common movements can complicate things. Things like bending over to brush your teeth or flipping your head to blow dry your hair can all make you dizzy. Plus, showering makes your blood vessels dilate, dropping your blood pressure, and putting you at risk for a dizzy spell. Install grab bars in the shower and near the toilet just to be safe.
I know you’ve heard this a million times, but drink more water. Dehydration, even if it’s mild, can play with your blood pressure and cause dizziness. Dr. Fife says to drink 8 to 10 glasses a day to keep dehydration at bay, but switch to sports drinks if you are already dehydrated. The sodium and electrolytes will help you better than water alone. You may also want to consider motion sickness medicine, such as Dramamine or Bonine. These will help if your dizziness tends to happen when traveling – in cars, planes, boats, etc.
Sometimes, vertigo is caused by Meniere’s disease, where your inner ear fills with extra fluid. If this is the case, lower your salt intake. This can keep the fluid at a manageable level and possibly ward off the dizzy feeling. Perhaps the most important advice of all, tell all of your doctors and pharmacists which medicines you are taking. Not only do certain medicines cause dizziness as a side effect, they can interact in very scary ways. Your doctor may simply need to alter your prescription or dose.
Other tips to try:
Dizziness and nausea tend to go hand in hand. Try ginger lollipops, ginger tea, or herbal supplements to help ease the nausea. Also, try keeping your eyes closed when changing positions or sitting up. The less your eyes relay to your brain, the better chance you have of your brain not confusing the signals.
Call your doctor if:
– You faint after a dizzy spell
– Your dizziness is accompanied by slurred speech or blurry / double vision
– Your dizziness includes numbness or tingling in the arms or legs
Meet the Experts:
Terry D. Fife, M.D.
– Associate Professor of Clinical Neurology at the University of Arizona in Tucson
– Director or the Arizona Balance Center at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix
Joshua Hoffman, M.D.
– Medical Director of Sutter Medical Group Hospitalist Program in Sacramento, California
The Doctors Book of Home Remedies by the Editors of Prevention Magazine
PLEASE NOTE: I am not a doctor. Please discuss any medical concerns with your health care provider.