There are few things that can make you feel as unwell as quickly as sudden dizziness.
That disarming feeling of lightheadedness, which leaves you feeling giddy, faint, or even like the world is spinning around you.
When you start feeling dizzy, it can feel as though it might never end, but for most people, moving slowly, lying down and having a drink of water should help it pass.1
However, if you are getting regular dizzy spells, it could be symptomatic of something more serious.
Find out more about some of the most common ailments behind what causes lightheadedness.
What causes dizziness?
The NHS has two categories of dizziness:
- Dizziness while you are ill with something else
- Dizziness for no obvious reason
Within those, there are as number of different reasons behind why you might be feeling dizzy.
1. Dizziness due to illness
The NHS recommends ruling out other illnesses or conditions that have dizziness as one of their side effects.
These conditions include:
- Dehydration or heat exhaustion
- Diabetes or low blood sugar levels
- Motion sickness2
If you are not experiencing any of the above, I.e. there is no obvious reason for your dizziness, it could be due to one of the following reasons.
2. New medication
Dizziness is a very common side effect of many long-term medications.3
Medications can take a while to normalise in the body as everyone metabolises them slightly differently.
And one of the most common side effects that you will see on many drugs’ advisory leaflets is dizziness.
If you have started a new medication recently, let your doctor know if you are experiencing any side effects that are stopping you getting on with your life.
Especially if you have been taking the medication for a while and find the dizziness is continuing.
3. Ear infections and labyrinthitis
One very common type of ear infection is labyrinthitis. It is often called vestibular neuritis.
It can make you dizzy as it affects the inner ear, which is in charge of your balance.
If you have some hearing loss at the same time as dizziness, labyrinthitis is likely to be the cause.
The symptoms should go away after a few days as the infection clears, although your balance could be affected for a few weeks. It is a viral infection, so antibiotics will not help, but see your GP if the symptoms get worse.4
Less of an illness in its own right, vertigo is a type of dizziness that makes the world feel like it is spinning.
It usually goes away on its own, but taking antihistamines might help in the short term.
If your vertigo does not go away, it could be a symptom of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV).5
Also known as Ménière’s disease, BPPV attacks can last hours to days and can be very distressing.6
5. Low blood pressure
If you get dizzy when you stand up suddenly, or after exercise, hypotension, also known as could be the cause.
If the lightheadedness comes on specifically after you change position (i.e. getting up from a chair or bed), you might be experiencing postural hypotension.
New medications, pregnancy or diabetes could be one of the underlying causes of postural hypotension.
If you want to rule out low blood pressure, which is considered to be anything less than 90/60mmHg, there are machines in most pharmacies and GP waiting rooms.7 Alternatively, you can buy one for use at home.
Also known as arteriosclerosis, this condition happens when you have clogged arteries from a buildup of fatty substances over the years.
It can cause dizziness, but more seriously, also stroke and heart attacks.
So if you are getting dizzy and know you have a family history of either of these conditions, or if you smoke, drink alcohol or eat a lot of fatty foods, it is best to go to your GP to get a checkup as soon as possible.8
Tinnitus refers to a sound in the ears that does not come from an outside source.
It could be a ringing, hissing or buzzing. Tinnitus can make sufferers feel dizzy and anxious.
If tinnitus is becoming a problem for you, i.e. if you hear the sound most of the time, if it is affecting your sleep or if it is getting worse, see your doctor.9
Last updated: 16 October 2020