It’s not uncommon to experience dizziness following a car crash, and some of the causes may be more serious than others.

Dizziness is an umbrella term that describes lightheadedness or feelings of faintness or loss of balance. Depending on the underlying cause, dizziness may be temporary, or it can be a sign of a more serious condition.

Here’s what you need to know about the possible causes of dizziness after a car accident and how it may be treated.

After an auto collision, you might experience dizziness or vertigo as a result of injuries during the crash. Dizziness describes lightheadedness more generally, and may be associated with presyncope, or feeling like you might “pass out,” but without losing consciousness.

Vertigo, on the other hand, is a vestibular disorder caused by inner ear issues. The inner ear controls balance. While vertigo can cause dizziness, it also causes feelings of spinning and disorientation.

Below are some of the reasons why dizziness or vertigo may develop following a car crash:

Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)

BPPV is the most common cause of dizziness. This type of vertigo develops when small calcium carbonate crystals normally located within your inner ear become dislodged, causing periods of dizziness and other symptoms.

While BPPV may be associated with inflammation or underlying health condition like diabetes, it can also be caused by head trauma.

Neck injury

It’s also possible to experience cervicogenic dizziness associated with a neck injury following a car crash. This type of dizziness develops as a result of neck pain or stiffness and may worsen when you change head positions.

Brain injury

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) can occur from sudden and forceful blows and bumps to your head, such as concussions that sometimes occur in serious car crashes. Aside from dizziness, TBI can also cause headaches, fatigue, and blurry vision.

While TBIs can develop from falls and other types of accidents, motor vehicle collisions are considered the third most common.

Post-accident stress

Another common cause of dizziness is stress and anxiety, both of which may cause you to breathe quickly (hyperventilate) during periods of rest. Any acute stress or anxiety you may be experiencing after a car crash may possibly contribute.

Whiplash, a type of neck strain that’s caused by sudden extension and bending, is an injury common in rear-end car collisions. In addition to neck pain, it’s estimated that half of people who have whiplash also experience dizziness and balance problems.

The exact time you may experience dizziness or vertigo after a car crash depends on the underlying cause, as well as the severity of your condition.

For example, BPPV and TBI may cause recurring symptoms, while cervicogenic dizziness may resolve once your neck strain improves.

The onset of dizziness or vertigo after a car accident depends on the type of injury.

For example, when you have BPPV, you may experience acute symptoms when you change the position of your head, with each episode usually lasting less than a minute. Cervicogenic dizziness with a neck injury can last several minutes to hours at a time.

With a TBI, dizziness and other symptoms begin immediately after the head injury and are more chronic but may resolve over time as your injury heals.

It’s also possible to experience dizziness from orthostatic hypotension, particularly if you’ve been on bed rest due to injuries from a car collision.

Any physical injury following a car collision ought to be addressed with emergency medical care. If you have dizziness without any obvious cause, drink plenty of fluids and rest in a cool, dark room until you’re feeling better. A doctor should address persistent dizziness.

As a rule of thumb, it’s always a good idea to see a healthcare professional following a car collision. It’s also important that you consider seeing a doctor if you’re experiencing headaches or fainting episodes accompanying dizziness.

If you’re experiencing any post-crash dizziness, a healthcare professional can also help determine the cause so you can get the treatment you need. This may involve a combination of tests, such as:

Signs of a medical emergency

Call emergency medical services or go to the nearest emergency room if you or someone you’re with experiences the following symptoms following a car crash:

  • confusion
  • loss of consciousness
  • seizures
  • difficulty speaking
  • weakness in arms or legs

Dizziness is one of many symptoms that may develop after a car crash. Also, consider getting medical help if you’re experiencing the following symptoms:

  • headaches
  • neck or back pain
  • loss of balance or coordination
  • vision changes
  • hearing problems
  • fatigue
  • nausea or vomiting
  • mood changes
  • high fever

Dizziness after a car crash is common, and it may be linked to many causes. While dizziness may improve on its own as any underlying injuries heal, other cases may be more severe and require medical attention.

It’s important that you see a doctor if you’re experiencing any new dizziness after a car crash.