Sudden dizziness can stem from many issues, including problems with the inner ear, low blood pressure, and mental health conditions. The dizziness may resolve on its own, but it is a good idea to seek medical advice.
People who feel dizzy may describe it as feeling lightheaded, off-balance, giddy, or faint.
Below, we describe when to seek medical attention, what to do at home to reduce dizziness, and the range of causes and treatment options.
Various health issues can cause sudden dizziness and vertigo, and some are more serious than others. For this reason, anyone who experiences a sudden onset of either issue should receive medical guidance.
Vertigo is a severe form of dizziness. A person experiencing vertigo feels that they or their surroundings are spinning.
Sudden dizziness may require urgent medical care. For example, some problems that can accompany dizziness are signs of a stroke, including changes in vision or speech, numbness, or weakness in the face or one or more limbs.
A person should receive medical attention if sudden dizziness persists, keeps coming back, or occurs with:
- hearing loss
- other changes in hearing, such as a ringing in the ears
- falls and other difficulties walking
- difficulty speaking
- chest pain
- any changes in vision, such as blurring
- numbness in the limbs or face
- an unusual or severe headache
Also, anyone with vertigo and a bad headache, a high fever, or nausea should receive immediate medical care.
When taking steps to ease dizziness at home, it can help to:
- Lie still in a dark, quiet room.
- Move the head slowly and carefully.
- Try to relax, such as by using relaxation techniques.
- Use a walking stick to reduce the chances of falling.
- Sleep with the head slightly raised, using two or more pillows.
- Get out of bed slowly, and sit on the edge for a moment before standing.
- Turn on the light, if getting up during the night.
Also, try to avoid bending over to pick up objects and stretching the neck. Rather than bending, squat to lower the body.
Problems with the inner ear can affect the body’s balance, and these issues are a main cause of dizziness and vertigo. Inner ear conditions that can cause sudden dizziness include:
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is a common condition that causes reoccurrent episodes of vertigo. They can be triggered by changes in the position of the head when the person:
- turns over in bed
- straightens up
- bends over
- looks up
BPPV happens when chalk crystals in the inner ear, which should be embedded in jelly, fall loose into the semicircular canals.
A healthcare professional can perform the Epley maneuver to treat BPPV.
Labyrinthitis refers to the maze of fluid-filled channels in the inner ear becoming inflamed.
Alongside dizziness, it can cause:
- hearing loss
- ringing in the ears, or tinnitus
Labyrinthitis sometimes follows an infection, such as a cold or the flu.
The doctor may prescribe a short course of medication for motion sickness or an antihistamine.
Vestibular neuritis or neuronitis
This condition occurs when a nerve in the inner ear called the vestibular nerve becomes inflamed, typically due to a viral infection.
A person may experience:
This issue does not affect the person’s hearing.
The doctor may treat the immediate symptoms with a 3-day course of antinausea medication, an antihistamine, or a benzodiazepine.
This progressive inner ear condition can cause hearing loss. The underlying cause of Ménière’s disease is still unclear, but the symptoms occur due to a buildup of fluid in a part of the inner ear called the labyrinth.
Potential causes include:
- viral infections
- autoimmune reactions
- tinnitus, or ringing in the ear
- a feeling of pressure or fullness in the ear
Sudden dizziness can result from low blood pressure.
A person may have postprandial hypotension — when blood pressure drops after a meal. This is prominent among older adults.
Or, a person may have postural hypotension. This involves feeling dizzy after standing up quickly. It occurs due to a sudden drop in blood pressure because of the change in position.
Other symptoms of low blood pressure include:
- blurry vision
- feeling muddled
The symptoms may occur or be more prominent in the morning, when blood pressure is naturally lower, during exercise, after a large meal, or during periods of significant stress or anxiety.
Doctors sometimes treat low blood pressure with medication. They may also suggest:
- staying hydrated
- avoiding strenuous activity during hot weather
- sleeping with the head slightly elevated
Panic attacks can cause physical symptoms that arise and intensify very quickly, including:
- feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- a pounding or racing heartbeat
- chest or abdominal pain
- weakness in the legs
- trembling and shaking
- feeling disconnected from thoughts or surroundings
Treatment typically involves therapy and medications.
There are many other causes of this issue, including:
- medication, with dizziness as a side effect
- heat exhaustion
- stress, anxiety, anger, and fear
- iron deficiency anemia
- motion sickness
- ear infections
- low blood sugar, in people with diabetes
- cervicogenic dizziness, which is dizziness or vertigo associated with neck pain or problems
Changing the problematic medication or treating the underlying health issue will resolve the dizziness, in these cases.
Not all episodes of dizziness have a known cause. When a doctor can identify the underlying issue, it can cause further complications.
The primary complication of dizziness itself involves becoming unsteady and falling. Anyone who may become dizzy should use a walking stick and avoid standing up or changing positions too quickly.
Sometimes, the balance problems that result from inner ear conditions, such as labyrinthitis or vestibular neuritis, can last for a long time, even years.
Sudden dizziness may stem from issues involving the inner ear, blood pressure, or mental health, but it can result from a range of other causes.
Sudden dizziness or vertigo can indicate that a person needs emergency medical care, particularly if it occurs with difficulty walking, speaking, seeing, or hearing, numbness, or a severe headache.
The dizziness may go away on its own, but it is a good idea to seek medical advice, particularly if other symptoms are present or the dizziness reoccurs.