Whether from dehydration or motion sickness, everyone has experienced a dizzy spell at some point—and despite it being disorienting and unpleasant, a single onset case doesn’t usually indicate a deeper problem. But if you’ve experienced dizziness during the COVID pandemic, there’s reason to take notice. According to a review of research recently published in the Ear, Nose & Throat Journal, this symptom could be a subtle sign that you have coronavirus. And to find out which state is the newest COVID hotspot, check out This State Is the New Epicenter of the COVID Pandemic.
In fact, sudden onset dizziness—which can range in presentation from lightheadedness to vertigo—is “one of the main clinical manifestations of COVID-19,” the researchers explain. While studies have concluded that neurological symptoms are common, affecting eight in 10 hospitalized COVID patients, they’re typically treated as afterthoughts to better known symptoms like cough and fever.
The review analyzed 14 different studies on the symptoms of 141 COVID patients who experienced dizziness while infected. In rare cases, dizziness was listed as the patients’ only symptom, but more often it was accompanied by other symptoms. Regardless, the researchers urged that physicians should “remain vigilant, especially when managing nonspecific symptoms such as dizziness, as they can be easily overlooked.”
Kaiser Health News (KHN) reports that this can be a particularly common occurrence in the elderly. “With a lot of conditions, older adults don’t present in a typical way, and we’re seeing that with COVID-19 as well,” Camille Vaughan, MD, section chief of geriatrics and gerontology at Emory University told the nonprofit news outlet. She notes that elderly patients may become dizzy, disoriented from their surroundings, and more prone to falling than younger COVID patients.
Of course, even if you don’t suspect COVID-19 is behind your spinning sensation, there’s good reason to let your physician know about it. Doctors warn that absent a clear external cause such as overexertion during exercise, dehydration, or becoming overheated, any case of extreme dizziness or vertigo should be checked out by a medical professional. Read on for four possible non-COVID explanations for your dizziness, and for more on your neurological symptoms, check out This Is How to Tell If Your Headache Is COVID.
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You’re having a heart attack or stroke.
According to The Mayo Clinic, dizziness is sometimes associated with two worst-case scenarios: a heart attack or stroke. In the event of a heart attack, you’re likely to experience pain or discomfort in the chest or upper back, as well as pain in your arms, neck, or jaw. You may also experience nausea, heart palpitations, sweatiness, or shortness of breath.
Besides dizziness, The American Stroke Association recommends memorizing these common stroke symptoms: face drooping, arm weakness, and speech difficulty. In the case of either set of symptoms, call 9-1-1 for immediate medical assistance. And for more on heart health, check out these 17 Silent Signs of a Heart Attack Men Can’t Afford to Miss.
You have an inner ear infection.
Another possible explanation for your dizziness is an inner ear infection—typically the result of inflammation in the inner ear or the nerves that connect your inner ear to your brain. The culprit could also be a middle ear infection, which occurs when the air-filled space behind the eardrum becomes inflamed.
You’re experiencing side effects to medication.
According to Scientific American, dizziness is one of the most common side effects of prescription drugs. “Some of the most popular medications, including those that control high blood pressure or alter the neurochemistry of the brain, can intensify or cause dizziness in up to 30 percent of patients who take them, experts estimate,” the report explains. If you suspect your symptom is the result of your medication, speak with your physician. And for more on how your medication could be harming you, check out If You Have These Common Disorders, You Need to Check Your Medication Now.
You have a non-COVID viral infection.
As doctors and researchers are quick to explain, COVID-19 is not the only virus that causes dizziness. “Vertigo and dizziness are common general symptoms associated with many viruses, and particularly with illness accompanied by fever, not just COVID-19,” Iahn Gonsenhauser, MD, chief quality and patient safety officer at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Prevention. You may be experiencing a severe cold, the flu, or something else entirely.