Your child has been complaining of dizziness. They might describe feeling as if the room is spinning, or you may notice them walking with the head or body at an odd angle.
You child may have a balance disorder, which can range from a mild, temporary condition known as vertigo, to a rare but serious affliction called Meniere’s disease.
Although vertigo is not a medical emergency, it’s important have your child evaluated to rule out other illnesses or conditions if they experience repeated or prolonged bouts of vertigo.
WHAT CAUSES DIZZINESS IN CHILDREN?
Vertigo often runs in families, especially those with a history of migraines. It is often attributed to the inner ear, where the vestibular system that affects balance is located. The medical term for dizziness is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV, which results when tiny crystals in the inner ear become dislodged. Treatment often involves a series of specific head movements that reposition the crystals to restore proper balance. (Children’s National)
A similar condition in children is called benign paroxysmal vertigo of childhood, or BPVC. While most bouts of dizziness in children are brief, lasting less than a minute, persistent spells can disruptbalance and coordination,and might also signal a more serious condition.
Possible causes of vertigo include:
- Standing up too quickly
- Missing meals
- Standing without moving for a long period
- Concussion or other head trauma
- Fever or congestion from a cold or ear infection
- A family history of migraines or seizures
- Arrhythmia or other heart defect (Fairview)
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
BPVC typically appears at about three or four years of age, and symptoms can vary. Parents might observe the following in their child:
- Unusual awkwardness, clumsiness or poor balance
- Complaint of ringing in the ears, ear pain or ear stuffiness
- Hearing loss
- Headache, sometimes with auras or light sensitivity (associated with migraine)
- Nausea or vomiting
With very small children who can’t describe their symptoms, parents or caregivers should watch for these signs:
- Fluttering or darting eye movements
- Loss of balance or difficulty walking
- Pale or clammy skin
- Anxiety or clinging behavior
- Unusual tilting of the head (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia)
WHEN TO SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION
Although dizzy spells that pass quickly are unlikely to signal a serious illness, see your doctor to rule out underlying causes if your child experiences any of the following:
- Severe headache
- Double vision or loss of vision
- Loss of consciousness
- Trouble speaking
- Leg or arm weakness
- Falling repeatedly
- Numbness or tingling
- Hearing loss that lasts more than an hour or two
- Repeated episodes of fainting or dizziness
- Chest pain or irregular heartbeat
- Jerking of the arms, legs, or face muscles that may indicate a seizure (Mayo Clinic, Fairview)
If your pediatrician suspects a balance or vestibular disorder, he or she will likely refer you a pediatric specialist to determine the cause of vertigo and recommend treatment. More serious causes, such as Meniere’s disease, vestibular neuritis or labyrinthitis, while rare, can lead to hearing loss if they go untreated.
You doctor may lead your child through an exercise known as the Epley maneuver—a series of head movements that can dislodge crystals from the inner ear and restore balance. Ask him or her how to do these exercises at home with your child. (Healthline)
If your child’s vertigo is not due to a more serious condition, try following general good health guidelines that can help reduce the incidence of dizzy spells. A healthier lifestyle, including a balanced diet, adequate sleep and hydration, paired with stress-relieving techniques such as head massage or yoga, can offer relief to school-age children whose vertigo might be caused by stress.
“Balance and Vestibular Program.” Children’s National, Washington, D.C. https://childrensnational.org/departments/balance-and-vestibular-program
“Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV).” Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/vertigo/symptoms-causes/syc-20370055
“Benign Paroxysmal Vertigo of Childhood.” Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. https://www.chop.edu/conditions-diseases/benign-paroxysmal-vertigo-childhood-bpvc
Gotter, A. “Treatments for Dizziness.” Healthline. Updated May 2019. https://www.healthline.com/health/treatments-for-dizziness
Torborg, L. “Mayo Clinic Q and A: Number of disorders can trigger vertigo.” May 30, 2015. https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-clinic-q-and-a-number-of-disorders-can-trigger-vertigo/
“When Your Child Has Dizziness or Fainting.” https://www.fairview.org/Patient-Education/Articles/English/w/h/e/n/_/When_Your_Child_Has_Dizziness_or_Fainting_89531