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What is dizziness?

Dizziness is a sense of feeling lightheaded or unsteady or woozy that is often accompanied by sensations of swaying, tilting, whirling, spinning, floating or moving that could also be described as vertigo.  Dizziness can hit even when you are standing or lying down absolutely still.

Our body’s balance maintenance system is very complex. For the body to perceive itself in a state of balance, the brain needs to integrate optimal inputs from muscles, joints, eyes and inner ear. If any of these body parts get diseased or if that part of the brain that integrates and analyzes signals received from these parts is affected, dizziness can occur. Because of these complexities, diagnosing the root cause of dizziness becomes a tough and multi-speciality task requiring inputs from different specialists.

That said, inner ear disorders show up as one of the more common cause of dizziness.

Let’s see which inner ear disorders can cause dizzy spells:

  • Meniere’s syndrome – This syndrome is connected to your inner ear‘s fluid balance regulatory system. In this condition, the patient gets attack-like episodes with sudden onset of multiple symptoms such as ringing noises in the ear, sense of fullness in the ear, distortion in hearing, loss of hearing, nausea, vomiting and severe dizziness. These attacks can last anywhere from 20 minutes to 24 hours. To treat this, your doctor can prescribe anti-nausea and anti-vertigo medicines along with dietary and medication changes. You will also be advised to quit smoking.  If medical treatment is not effective or available, you may be advised to undergo a surgical procedure.
  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) – Your inner ear’s balancing section is equipped with delicate sensory units. BPPV can result from damage inflicted on these units. The symptoms show up as sensations of spinning, dizziness, imbalance, and lightheadedness which are felt when the patient changes his head and body position, for example, at the time of turning over in the bed or bending the head backwards.  These sensations usually last no more than a few moments and may range anywhere between mild to moderate to severe. The patient can get complete relief by learning a few simple head and body repositioning manoeuvres that can be done anywhere.
  • Vestibular neuritis (labyrinthitis) – This condition occurs due to inflammation of balance-controlling inner ear nerve cells that is usually caused by an upper respiratory tract viral infection such as influenza. The patient suffers from sudden vertigo spells lasting anywhere between 1-7 days.  This condition is eminently treatable with full chances of a complete recovery without requiring any surgery. Your ENT physician will most likely prescribe medications for symptomatic relief from dizziness and nausea and will recommend a 6-8 weeks’ balance rehabilitation program.

In some cases, dizziness can also result from medications such as those prescribed for seizure disorders (e.g, carbamazepine, phenytoin) or sedatives and antidepressant drugs.

In some cases, dizziness can also result from medicines prescribed for inner ear infections (e.g. gentamicin, streptomycin). Last but not the least, alcohol intake can also cause dizziness.

We recommend a visit to your ENT physician. He will undertake the required tests and investigations and may also have to consult other specialists (as we stated earlier, body’s balancing system involves inputs sent to brain from muscles, joints, eyes, and inner ear). Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, you will be given a suitable treatment.

We recommend the following precautions:

  • Change positions or take turns slowly and gradually. It is better if you have something to hold onto while turning or changing positions.
  • Installation of hand grips in bathrooms will also help minimize slips due to dizziness.
  • Always walk up and down the stairs holding on to the handrail.
  •  Make sure that you walk only in lighted areas. Avoid walking in the dark. Get night lights in every room of your house and before entering a dark room, switch on the light.
  • Be regular with your prescription medicines and follow the diet prescribed to you.
  • Balance improvement exercises such as yoga or tai chi can help a lot.
  • If your condition is really bad, use a cane or a walker for support on move.
  • Make sure that your footwear is low-heeled, comfortable, flexible and gives good traction.
  • Remove floor clutter from your home to avoid tripping over. Stools, rugs, loose electrical cords, floor cushions – clear them all.
  • Avoid driving, climbing, or any activity involving heights till your doctor gives an all-clear signal.


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