Vertigo is the sudden and disorienting feeling that the room you’re in is spinning. It can last for minutes, days or weeks, depending on the cause, and it’s more common in kids.
Balance problems or feeling dizzy are common among children. A large-scale study has found that as many as
Here’s some information to help you learn more about vertigo in children, some of its causes, and ways to help kids get better.
The terms “vertigo” and “dizziness” are sometimes used in the same breath, but they’re different sensations. Dizziness is a feeling of light-headedness or disorientation, while vertigo is a feeling of motion as if you are on a merry-go-round.
Vertigo is different from dizziness because rather than a feeling of wooziness, it gives you the sense that things are rotating around you while you’re staying still. It could be caused by underlying issues that resolve on their own or may require treatment.
It’s slightly more common in girls and non-Hispanic white children.
Children can experience vertigo for many reasons, affecting their balance and movement. It’s not a diagnosis on its own but rather is caused by other conditions.
Symptoms of vertigo, or that occur with it, include:
- fear in young children (they don’t know what’s happening to them)
- visual disturbance
- hearing loss or ringing in the ears
- clumsiness or loss of balance
- nystagmus, or rapid eye movements
According to a
Because of that, doctors may need more assessments for children to figure out what’s happening. Common causes of vertigo in children include:
The most common cause of vertigo is an ear infection. The two common types of ear infections are:
- Vestibular neuritis is an infection, usually viral, of one of the two vestibular nerves in your inner ear. These nerves communicate positional information to your brain, and the inflammation can disrupt your sense of balance. Vestibular neuritis can be caused by other infections such as flu, chicken pox, measles, mononucleosis, rubella, and shingles.
- Labyrinthitis is also an infection that is commonly viral, sometimes bacterial, and affects your vestibular and cochlear nerves. It has the same vertigo-producing effect and also affects your hearing.
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) in children
Benign positional vertigo happens when calcium carbonate crystals move from one part of your ear into the semicircular canals, fluid-filled tubes inside your ears that help regulate balance. This sends your brain confusing messages about your position, causing vertigo and other symptoms.
These benign or harmless episodes of vertigo are the most common type of childhood vertigo and may begin at age 2 or 3 and often resolve by age 8. These may be a precursor to migraine later in childhood.
Vestibular migraine is one of the two most common causes of childhood vertigo. It’s not known exactly what causes it, but genetics play a role, and it may be due to the constriction of blood vessels around the brain.
Some other causes of vertigo in children include:
- head or neck injury
- vestibular disorders, or balance disorders relating to the inner ear
- emotions like stress and anxiety
- psychiatric disorders (may cause psychogenic vertigo)
Your healthcare team will likely take a detailed medical history and perform an exam.
Because many conditions that cause vertigo begin in the head and ears, you will probably also get a referral to a doctor who treats the ears, nose, and throat – an otolaryngologist (ENT). They may also test your child’s balance.
Because there are so many cases, doctors may also refer your child to other specialists for further evaluation or testing, such as medical imaging, hearing tests, or lab work.
The treatment depends on the cause of vertigo.
If an ear infection is a cause, your child’s healthcare professional may recommend over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as antihistamines or motion sickness medicines. They may also prescribe antibiotics.
If specialists see your child, these doctors may also have other recommendations for treatment such as physical therapy or different medications.
- pain in the neck and shoulder
- chronic stress
- assigned female at birth
- psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety
- difficulty hearing
- impairments that limit a child’s ability to crawl, walk or play
- frequent headaches or migraine episodes
- some developmental delays
- seizure in the past year
They also found different risk factors in girls and boys.
- attention deficit disorder (ADD)
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- hearing difficulties
- respiratory allergies
Bouts of vertigo are not uncommon in childhood, and many resolve on their own. Contact a doctor or healthcare professional if your child:
- seems confused
- has chronic or long lasting vertigo
- also has ear ringing, headache, or vomiting
Vertigo will often go away by itself. If it doesn’t, having a healthcare team find and treat the underlying cause should bring your child relief and peace of mind.
Vertigo in children is a common and treatable symptom caused by various conditions. It differs from dizziness in that it feels like the room is spinning around you.
It can make it hard for your child to keep their balance and is often associated with other symptoms such as nausea and headache.
If vertigo doesn’t go away or is severe enough, making it hard for your child to function, it’s time to see a doctor. Treatment will likely involve having an otolaryngologist or other specialist pinpoint the exact cause.
Once the cause is identified, there are many effective treatments and medications for your child to try.