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Inner Ear Problems: Causes of Dizziness (Vertigo)

Benign positional vertigo (BPV)

Ear canal showing close up of fluid, normal crystals and crystals floating in the wrong part of the canal

This is the most common cause of vertigo. BPV (also called benign positional paroxysmal vertigo or BPPV) results when crystals in the canals shift into the wrong position. Episodes usually occur when the head is moved in a certain way. This can happen when turning in bed, bending, or looking up.


  • Causes episodes of vertigo that last for seconds. These episodes can occur several times a day, depending on body position.

  • Doesn’t cause hearing loss.

  • Often goes away on its own, but may go away sooner with treatment.

Infection or inflammation

Ear canal showing how infection can cause nerves and canals to swell

Sometimes the semicircular canals swell and send incorrect balance signals. This problem may be caused by a viral infection. Depending on the cause, hearing can be affected (labyrinthitis) or can remain normal (neuronitis).

Infection or inflammation:

  • Causes episodes of vertigo that last for hours or days. The first episode is usually the worst.

  • Can cause hearing loss.

  • Often goes away on its own, but may go away sooner with treatment.

  • May require vestibular rehabilitation if you have persistent imbalance.

Meniere’s disease

Ear canal showing increased fluid and swelling

Although uncommon, this condition happens when there is too much fluid in the canals. This causes increased pressure and swelling, and affects balance and hearing signals.

Meniere’s disease may:

  • Cause episodes of vertigo that last for hours.

  • Cause fluctuating hearing problems, usually in one ear, that worsen over time.

  • Cause buzzing or ringing in the ears (tinnitus).

  • Cause a feeling of fullness or pressure in the ear.

  • Cause any of these symptoms: vertigo, hearing loss, tinnitus, or ear fullness to last a lifetime.

Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Online Medical Reviewer: Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 5/19/2014
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