Both dizziness and vertigo are balance problems which can be caused by inner ear issues. Dizziness generally refers to a person feeling off-balance, lightheaded or unsteady. “The world is turning” is a common expression used to describe vertigo, the sensation that a persons surroundings are turning or spinning.


What is the difference between dizziness, vertigo, and motion sickness?

Some people describe a balance problem by saying they feel dizzy, lightheaded, unsteady, or giddy. This feeling of imbalance or disequilibrium is sometimes caused by an inner ear problem. Others describe their balance problem by using the word vertigo, which comes from the Latin verb “to turn”. They often say that they or their surroundings are turning or spinning. Vertigo can also be triggered by problems in the inner ear.

Motion sickness is a common medical problem associated with travel. Some people experience nausea and even vomiting when riding in an airplane, automobile, boat, or amusement park ride. Motion sickness is usually just a minor annoyance and does not signify any serious medical illness.

Dizziness, vertigo, and motion sickness all relate to the sense of balance and equilibrium.

Your sense of balance is maintained by:

  • Inner ears
  • Eyes
  • Skin pressure receptors
  • Muscle and Joint sensory receptors
  • Central nervous system

The symptoms of motion sickness and dizziness appear when the central nervous system receives conflicting messages from the other four systems.

If your brain does not get enough blood flow, you feel lightheaded. Almost everyone has experienced this on occasion when standing up quickly from a lying down position. But some people have lightheadedness from poor circulation on a frequent or chronic basis. This could be caused by arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, and it is commonly seen in patients who have high blood pressure, diabetes, or high levels of blood fats (cholesterol). It is sometimes seen in patient with inadequate cardiac (heart) function or with anemia.

Certain drugs also decrease the blood flow to the brain, especially stimulants, such as nicotine and caffeine. Excess salt in the diet also leads to poor circulation. Sometimes circulation is impaired by spasms in the arteries caused by emotional stress, anxiety ,and tension.

If the inner ear fails to receive enough blood flow, the more specific type of dizziness occurs; that is, vertigo. The inner ear is very sensitive to minor alterations of blood flow and all of the causes mentioned for poor circulation to the brain also apply specifically to the inner ear.

The doctor will ask you to describe your symptoms, whether it is lightheadedness or a sensation of motion, how long and how often the dizziness has troubled you, how long a dizzy episode lasts, and whether it is associated with hearing loss or nausea and vomiting.

Because the inner ear controls both balance and hearing, disorders of balance often affect hearing and vice versa. Therefore, your physician might recommend hearing tests or audiograms. Depending on your diagnosis, the physician might order skull x-rays, a CT or MRI scan of your head, or special tests of eye motion after warm or cold water is used to stimulate the inner ear (ENG – electronystagmography). In some cases, blood tests or a heart evaluation might be recommended.

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