Feeling dizzy in any situation can be a bit concerning, because there’s a long list of causes that can spur the unsettling feeling. This is known as vertigo, a condition that can make it feel like you or your surroundings are spinning, sometimes leading to a loss of balance, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
A sudden drop in blood pressure, dehydration, getting up too quickly, certain medications, inner ear issues, or motion sickness are all common causes of vertigo. But struggling with an unusual symptom during the coronavirus pandemic might make you wonder if it could be related to COVID-19.
Currently, neither the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or World Health Organization (WHO) list dizziness as a symptom of COVID-19. But the CDC does note that its list doesn’t include “all possible symptoms.”
Here’s everything doctors know about the link between vertigo and COVID-19, and what you should do if you’re suddenly feeling dizzy.
Is dizziness a symptom of COVID-19?
Some research has linked vertigo to COVID-19. In fact, a review of research published in the Ear, Nose & Throat Journal called dizziness “one of the main clinical manifestation of COVID-19.”
For the paper, researchers analyzed 14 different studies that included data from 141 coronavirus patients—and found that all of them experienced vertigo at some point. They also found that dizziness was the initial symptom in three of those patients and, in two of them, it was followed by respiratory symptoms. “It is imperative that attending physicians remain vigilant, especially when managing nonspecific symptoms such as dizziness, as it can be easily overlooked,” the researchers concluded.
A case report published in July detailed how a 78-year-old man went to the ER in March with dizziness and unsteadiness as his main symptoms. Despite having no known symptoms of COVID-19, he tested positive for the coronavirus. “Frontline physicians should be aware of early, non-specific symptoms associated with SARS‐CoV‐2 infection,” the researchers wrote.
Another case report published in June detailed how a 20-year-old woman went to the hospital with vertigo, nausea, and vomiting. She also eventually tested positive for COVID-19.
While it’s clear that COVID-19 could potentially cause dizziness, it’s not entirely clear why. “At this time, the specific mechanism explaining this phenomenon has not been identified,” says Iahn Gonsenhauser, M.D., chief quality and patient safety officer at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “Vertigo and dizziness are common general symptoms associated with many viruses, and particularly with illness accompanied by fever, not just COVID-19.”
However, infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, thinks there could be an indirect link. “People could be dehydrated or feeling very badly with generalized malaise with COVID—that can make you feel dizzy,” he says.
A drop in blood oxygen levels, which can happen with more severe cases of COVID-19, can also bring on feelings of vertigo, says John Sellick, D.O., an infectious disease expert and professor of medicine at the University at Buffalo/SUNY in New York.
What should you do if you feel dizziness or vertigo?
While simply feeling dizzy doesn’t automatically mean you have COVID-19, especially if you have no other symptoms, it’s worth talking to your doctor if the feeling persists or you start experiencing a loss of balance. “We see dizziness with many other infections and illnesses,” Dr. Sellick says. “But since there’s so much COVID-19 circulating, it may be worth exploring.”
Dr. Gonsenhauser also stresses dizziness isn’t a condition you want to sit on. “Dizziness and vertigo can be signs of many other potentially dangerous and even life-threatening conditions, such as cardiovascular problems, stroke, serious infection, and sepsis, as well as many others,” he says.
If your dizziness comes on suddenly and it’s not linked with a fever or preexisting condition, Dr. Gonsenhauser says you should seek immediate medical attention.