When you think of COVID-19, you likely think of fever, cough, and shortness of breath. However, COVID-19 can have many symptoms. What these symptoms are, as well as their severity, can vary from person to person.
In fact, COVID-19 can also cause neurological symptoms like headache and loss of smell or taste. Dizziness and vertigo are another two neurological symptoms that can happen with COVID-19.
This article will explore what’s known so far about dizziness and vertigo as symptoms of COVID-19.
Before we discuss how dizziness and vertigo are related to COVID-19, let’s describe what both of these symptoms feel like and how they differ.
- Dizziness. Dizziness is a feeling of being off-balance or unsteady. If you feel dizzy, you may have trouble staying balanced or may stagger when you walk.
- Vertigo. While often used interchangeably with dizziness, vertigo refers to a unique sensation where you feel as if you or your surroundings are moving. With vertigo, you typically experience a spinning or tipping sensation.
Generally speaking, dizziness and vertigo can have a variety of causes. Some of these causes involve problems with the inner ear. Your inner ear is important for helping you maintain your balance and equilibrium.
It’s known that some types of viral infections can impact the inner ear, leading to conditions that cause dizziness or vertigo. One such condition is vestibular neuritis.
Vestibular neuritis happens when an infection causes inflammation of the nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain. In fact, some case reports, like one from 2020 and one from 2021, have described vestibular neuritis during or shortly after COVID-19.
However, this may not be the only way COVID-19 causes dizziness or vertigo. Although a lot is still unknown about why COVID-19 causes these symptoms, some potential mechanisms include:
- the effects of inflammation from the infection
- direct viral infection of nerve tissues
- damage to nerve tissue from reduced oxygen (hypoxia)
- injury related to increased blood clotting (hypercoagulopathy)
We’re still learning about the exact prevalence of dizziness and vertigo with COVID-19. However, some researchers have begun to look at how often these symptoms occur.
An April 2020 report examined neurological symptoms in 214 people hospitalized with COVID-19. It found that 16.8 percent of these individuals experienced dizziness as a symptom. Neurological symptoms were found to be more common in people with severe illness.
Another study from October 2020 investigated dizziness and vertigo in people who’d had COVID-19. Of the 185 people that responded to a study questionnaire, 34 (18.4 percent) reported experiencing dizziness or vertigo.
These numbers are generally consistent with those from a September 2020 review of 14 studies that described dizziness as a COVID-19 symptom. Across these studies, the percentage of people reporting dizziness ranged from about 4 to 30 percent.
Reports characterizing dizziness during COVID-19 are still relatively limited. However, some indicate that dizziness may happen as an earlier symptom of COVID-19.
The April 2020 report mentioned above noted that most neurological symptoms like dizziness presented early. Additionally, another April 2020 report mentioned dizziness as a common symptom at the onset of illness.
Two case studies, one from April and one from July of 2020, have reported dizziness as one of the only initial symptoms of COVID-19. Both individuals in these case studies experienced new-onset dizziness without other common COVID-19 symptoms like cough or fever.
Dizziness and long-haul COVID
While many people recover from COVID-19 over a period of days or weeks, some individuals can experience persistent symptoms that last for many weeks or months. This is called long-haul COVID-19.
It’s estimated that 10 to 35 percent of people who get COVID-19 experience long-haul symptoms. Long-haul COVID-19 isn’t tied to the severity of a person’s symptoms, meaning that even people that had mild COVID-19 symptoms can develop it.
Dizziness is a potential symptom of long-haul COVID-19. In fact, many long-haul symptoms are neurological in nature. Other symptoms of long-haul COVID-19 that have been reported include:
How exactly COVID-19 leads to long-haul COVID-19 is unknown. Additionally, it’s not known why some people develop long-haul symptoms while others don’t. Both of these topics are ongoing areas of research.
Dizziness can happen for many reasons that don’t have to do with COVID-19. However, if you’re concerned about COVID-19, some other symptoms to look out for include:
Do some symptoms happen earlier?
In some cases, dizziness has been reported as an early symptom of COVID-19. While exact symptoms can vary by individual, the following symptoms have also been reported as potential early signs of COVID-19:
- loss of smell or taste
When to seek emergency care
There are some symptoms that indicate that COVID-19 has become severe. If you or someone else has any of the following symptoms, go to the emergency room or call 911:
Whether or not it’s due to COVID-19, follow the steps below to help to ease the symptoms of dizziness or vertigo:
- Sit or lie down. Stop what you’re doing and lie down. You can also sit on a chair with your head positioned between your knees. While this last method is beneficial for dizziness, it may make vertigo worse, so be sure to take it slow.
- Move carefully. Dizziness or vertigo can lead to falls. If you must move around, do so slowly and carefully. Use support in the form of a walking stick or cane, if possible.
- Hydrate. Dehydration can make your symptoms worse, so try to drink some water as you recover.
- Avoid some activities. Don’t drive or operate other types of heavy machinery until your symptoms have passed.
- Rest up. Getting a good amount of rest may help ease your symptoms, particularly if they’re due to an infection.
Dizziness and vertigo are two potential symptoms of COVID-19. Current reports indicate that these symptoms often appear early and may be relatively common.
It’s currently unknown why COVID-19 causes dizziness or vertigo. Some possible explanations include inflammation from the infection as well as direct infection of nerve tissue.
If you have an episode of dizziness or vertigo, sit or lie down until it passes. When you get up again, be sure to do so slowly. If you’re concerned about COVID-19, other early symptoms to look out for include fever, headache, and loss of smell or taste.