“Dizziness” is a general term to explain the feeling we have when there is something wrong with our sense of balance. Many people who experience dizziness find it difficult to explain exactly how it makes them feel. For example, some people who feel dizzy, light-headed, giddy or off-balance describe the feeling as if they, or their surroundings, are spinning around.
No. Dizziness and vertigo are not diseases in themselves. Dizziness is a symptom of a distinct condition or cause. There are many different conditions that can cause dizziness. In the same way, a cough is a symptom of many different possible conditions or causes. It might not always be possible to diagnose a specific cause of dizziness.
Is dizziness the sign of something serious?
Usually not. Dizziness and balance problems are quite common and something that many people will experience, especially as they get older. Fortunately, dizziness is very rarely the symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition.
How does our balance system work?
The ear has three main parts: the external or outer ear (the visible part on the outside), the middle ear (the main function of which is to transmit sound from the outer to the inner ear), and the inner ear (the labyrinth). The balance system is a complex system of nerves, small tubes called semicircular canals, and fluid inside the labyrinth. It includes parts of the brain and other components.
A crucial aspect of a good balance system is that your brain can control your balance by using the most reliable information it receives for any given moment or situation. For instance, in the dark, when the information conveyed by your eyes is reduced or unreliable, your brain will use more information from your legs and feet and your inner ear. Alternatively, if you are walking in daylight on a sandy beach, the information coming from your legs and feet will be less reliable and your brain will rely more on your vision and vestibular systems. We almost never have to rely solely on the information provided by the balance organs of the ear. Many people retain a good sense of balance despite inner ear problems due to the complementary support provided by the eyes, and movement and position detectors in our joints and muscles. This is why even people who have lost the function of both inner ears do not entirely lose their sense of balance.
What other symptoms might I have?
If your dizziness is caused by inner ear problems you might also experience problems with your hearing. This is because the balance and hearing systems are close together in the inner ear. If you do have hearing problems, they are likely to be either tinnitus (a ringing or buzzing noise in one or both ears) or varying degrees of hearing loss. Some people experience clumsiness or unsteadiness because of physical problems like numbness or weakness in their legs. Other possible symptoms are double vision, numbness in your face, and problems with your speech. These might be signs that there are problems with the nerves in your face or head. These symptoms should be investigated by your doctor. If you have had repetitive ear infections with discharge from your ear, your dizziness could be due to the balance systems in your inner ear being affected by a previous or current infection.