Episodes of vertigo can last a few seconds, a few minutes, a few hours, or even a few days. In general, however, an episode of vertigo typically lasts just seconds to minutes.
Vertigo isn’t a disease or condition. Instead, it’s a symptom of a condition. Identifying the underlying cause of your vertigo can help you and your doctor find a treatment that works to prevent the episodes.
Vertigo is different from dizziness. This is because the sensations from vertigo make you feel like your surroundings are moving, or that you’re moving when you’re actually standing still. Dizziness typically causes you to feel woozy or lightheaded.
Vertigo episodes may come and go and cause sudden, severe episodes of disorientation. They can also be incredibly mild, or be chronic and last for longer periods of time.
Other symptoms of vertigo include:
Factors that affect how long vertigo lasts
The cause of your vertigo plays a big role in how long your symptoms will last.
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)
BPPV is one of the most common causes of vertigo. The average episode reoccurs but usually lasts for one minute or less.
A severe episode of vertigo caused by Meniere’s disease can last for several hours or even days. This condition causes vertigo that can often cause vomiting, nausea, and hearing loss, as well as ringing in the ear.
Inner ear problems
Vertigo caused by inflammation or an infection in the inner ear may remain until the inflammation subsides. If you have any signs of inner ear problems, it’s important to talk to your doctor about treatment so they can get the vertigo under control. They’ll determine if there are any medications that may be right for the condition.
Stroke or head injury
There are other conditions and injuries that may cause episodes of vertigo. The length of your vertigo episode will depend on what that underlying cause is.
What to do if you’re experiencing vertigo
When you experience an episode of vertigo, it’s wise to practice these do’s and don’ts so you can stay safe and also reduce your chances of greater side effects or complications.
Get a diagnosis
If you haven’t already been diagnosed, see a doctor after you experience vertigo symptoms for the first time. Together, you and your doctor can review your symptoms and decide on a treatment plan that fits what you’re experiencing and what’s causing the symptoms.
Sit somewhere safe
Take precautions to prevent injury as soon as you begin experiencing signs and symptoms of vertigo. The sensations you experience from an episode can be disorienting and may make you more likely to stumble or fall. This can lead to injury.
Get off the road
If you’re driving when a vertigo episode starts, pull over as soon as you’re able. Wait out the episode before you continue driving so you don’t put yourself and others at risk.
Begin home remedies
When vertigo symptoms start, your doctor may instruct you to perform self-care home remedies or physical therapy maneuvers to ease the symptoms. Do them as soon as you safely can.
If vertigo is the result of a health complication you’re not treating, vertigo symptoms may become worse. You can begin to experience long-term health complications as a result of not treating the underlying cause for your vertigo.
Vertigo is bothersome, but it’s rarely a sign of a serious health problem. Treatment for vertigo aims to treat the underlying cause that’s producing the disorienting sensations in order to eliminate the symptoms. If a cause isn’t known, your doctor may also treat the symptoms of vertigo alone.
The most common treatments for vertigo include:
The majority of home remedies are designed to prevent or reduce the risk for a vertigo episode, but some can be used when the disorientation begins. These include:
- trying acupuncture
- avoiding caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol
- staying hydrated
- taking herbal supplements
Some medications may help stop severe vertigo episodes. The most commonly prescribed medications for vertigo are:
- anti-nausea medicines, such as promethazine (Phenergan)
- sedative medicines, such as diazepam (Valium)
- antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
These medicines may be administered by mouth, patch, suppository, or IV. Both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription options are available.
Physical therapy maneuvers
Two main physical therapy maneuvers are used to treat symptoms of vertigo. Your doctor will work with you to learn the proper technique so you can perform them correctly. These maneuvers include:
- Modified Epley maneuvers. The Epley maneuver is a type of treatment that uses head and body movements to encourage the inner ear to reabsorb any matter that’s floating in the inner ear and causing vertigo. The relief can be immediate, or it may take several days.
- Vestibular rehabilitation exercises. Moving your head and body when you’re experiencing a vertigo episode may feel too difficult. Your doctor can teach you rehabilitation exercises that can help your brain adjust to the changes in the inner ear. These balancing techniques will help your eyes and other senses learn to cope with the disorientation.
Waiting out the symptoms of vertigo may be the best option for some people. After all, vertigo can ease in a matter of hours, minutes, or even seconds. In those cases, you’re better off waiting for the body to correct itself than trying another treatment option.
When to see your doctor
If you experience episodes of vertigo, make an appointment to see your doctor. Describe what you’re experiencing, how long the episodes last, and what makes them end, if you’ve used any type of treatment. Your doctor will perform a physical exam. They may also conduct several tests to check your eyes, hearing, and balance.
If those results aren’t enough for a conclusive diagnosis, your doctor may request some imaging tests to look at your brain. An MRI can give your doctor a detailed image of your brain.
You should seek emergency medical help if you experience vertigo with any of the following:
- a severe headache
- a high fever
- weakness in your arms or legs
- inability or trouble walking, speaking, hearing, or seeing
- passing out
- chest pain
It’s important to talk with your doctor any time you experience vertigo. They can work with you to understand the underlying cause and find treatments that can both prevent vertigo attacks and ease them if and when they occur.
Fortunately, most of the underlying causes of vertigo aren’t serious. They can be treated easily, which will eliminate vertigo episodes. If the underlying cause can’t be treated, your doctor can work with you to reduce disorientation and hopefully prevent future complications.