Vertigo Symptoms and Signs
Vertigo is a feeling that you are dizzily turning around or that your surroundings are dizzily turning about you. Vertigo is usually due to a problem with the inner ear but can also be caused by vision problems and other conditions. Vertigo is medically distinct from dizziness, lightheadedness, and unsteadiness in that vertigo involves the sensation of movement. Vertigo may be described as a feeling that you yourself are spinning around, known as subjective vertigo, or the feeling of rotation of the surrounding environment, known as objective vertigo.
Quick GuideBalance Disorders: Vertigo, Motion Sickness, Labyrinthitis, and More
What is vertigo?
Vertigo is a sense of rotation, rocking, or the world spinning, experienced even when someone is perfectly still.
Many children attempt to create a sense of vertigo by spinning around for a time; this type of induced vertigo lasts for a few moments and then disappears. In comparison, when vertigo occurs spontaneously or as a result of an injury it tends to last for many hours or even days before resolving.
Sound waves travel through the outer ear canal until they reach the ear drum. From there, sound is turned into vibrations, which are transmitted through the inner ear via three small bones -- the incus, the malleus, and the stapes -- to the cochlea and finally to the vestibular nerve, which carries the signal to our brain. Another important part of the inner ear is the collection of semicircular canals. These are positioned at right angles to each other, and are lined with sensitive cells to act like a gyroscope for the body. This distinctive arrangement, in combination with the sensitivity of the hair cells within the canals, provides instantaneous feedback regarding our position in space.
Picture of the outer and inner structures of the ear.
Reviewed on 5/1/2015
Medically reviewed by Peter O’Connor, MD; American Board of Otolaryngology with subspecialty in Sleep Medicine
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Burmeister, D. B., et al. "Management of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo with the canalith repositioning maneuver in the emergency department setting." The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association 110.10 (2010): 602-604.