When the term COVID-19 is passed around, people usually take it to mean symptoms like cough, fever, & shortness of breath. However, the virus has evolved a lot in the past year or so, & new symptoms keep cropping up each time there is a new wave of infections in any part of the world.
What is known now, is that although COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory disease with classic flu-like symptoms including fever, cough, dyspnea, & wheezing, it can also cause certain neurological symptoms in patients.
These neurological symptoms include headaches, the now well-known loss of smell & taste, anxiety, depression, dizziness, & vertigo. Dizziness signs & vertigo are not very common symptoms of COVID-19, so they can’t determine if a person is indeed suffering from COVID-19 as standalone symptoms.
However, when they occur with headaches, cough, & shortness of breath, they very well could signify a COVID-19 infection. But before we get deeper into the various presentations of COVID-19 & if dizziness & vertigo are among those, we have to understand exactly what dizziness & vertigo are.
A look at Dizziness & Vertigo:
Most people like to use the two terms dizziness & vertigo interchangeably, but in reality, they have two very different meanings. Dizziness implies a feeling of being unbalanced, unsteady, & general grogginess while you walk. You might feel as if you’re about to faint or pass out, & might find it difficult to walk.
Vertigo is when you feel a range of symptoms, including dizziness signs, a loss of balance, disorientation, unsteadiness, nausea, vomiting, motion sickness, & in some cases, headaches coupled with hearing loss & tinnitus.
It’s important to remember that dizziness symptoms can be caused by a lot of medical things, while Vertigo is mostly a symptom of an underlying illness, injury, or an issue with the inner ear. People with Vertigo also experience a unique sensation of their surroundings moving or spinning even when they’re sitting or standing perfectly still.
Vertigo is of two types; central & peripheral. Central Vertigo is caused by issues with the brain & the central nervous system, while peripheral vertigo is the result of an illness, a head or neck injury, or as mentioned before, an inner ear problem.
The inner ear is key to the body’s balance system, as it houses the vestibular system. When the inner ear or parts of it get infected or inflamed, it can’t perform its functions properly, leading to balance issues, dizziness, & trouble with hearing.
In certain cases, vertigo patients might also experience temporary vision problems, although it is not very common.
What are some vertigo & dizziness causes?
Dizziness signs & symptoms can be caused by any number of things. Some of the most common causes of dizziness include:
- Anemia, or a lack of red blood cells in the body
- Low blood sugar, also called hypoglycemia
- An infection or illness
- Lack of hydration
- Side effects of certain medications
- Drinking too much alcohol
Aside from these, there are numerous other reasons that could cause dizziness signs & symptoms in a person. Vertigo is usually caused by an inner ear issue, or in rare cases, is the result of a problem with the brain.
The most common type of Vertigo is BPPV, Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo, which occurs when tiny calcium crystals called otoconia in our middle ears, get lodged inside the semicircular canal of the inner ear. These crystals then cause problems with the body’s balance, leading to dizziness & disorientation.
In certain cases, some inner ear infections like Vestibular Neuritis, which refers to an infection of the Vestibular Nerve, responsible for carrying signals from the inner ear to the brain, can also cause Vertigo. Another infection that can cause vertigo is labyrinthitis, which occurs when the labyrinth inside the inner ear swells up as a result of the inflammation.
Like some other viral infections that impact the inner ear & cause dizziness and Vertigo, COVID-19 has the potential to make patients feel dizzy & nauseous, along with other vertigo-like symptoms. It’s still unknown how exactly COVID-19 causes these neurological symptoms in patients. However, some possible explanations could include:
- The after-effect from the inflammation caused by the infection
- Viral infection & inflammation of the nerve tissues
- Nerve & tissue damage as a result of hypoxia (low blood oxygen)
- Any kind of injuries caused as a result of blood clotting also called hypercoagulopathy
Is dizziness a common symptom of COVID-19?
There is a lot to learn about this new novel coronavirus, & the various ways in which it can present itself among patients. Some researchers have been looking at the frequency of instances where COVID-19 patients present with dizziness as a symptom. And the results have been interesting too. A study from April 2020 conducted on 214 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 revealed that about 16.8 percent of these experienced dizziness as a symptom before developing more telling symptoms of COVID.
Another study from October 2020 with 184 volunteers reported 34 people as having experienced some kind of dizziness & vertigo as part of their COVID-19 infection. These findings gel well with a September 2020 combined medical review of 14 studies that accepted dizziness as a genuine symptom of COVID-19.
The studies showed that across the world, the percentage of people reporting dizziness as a COVID symptom was in the range of 4 to 30 percent.
When do dizziness signs occur in the course of a COVID infection?
Although medical literature has limited data regarding the exact presentation of dizziness with respect to COVID, dizziness has been reported to be an early stage symptom of COVID-19.
This basically implies that people experience dizziness in the early stages of COVID infection, along with other mild symptoms like fever, cough, body aches, etc.
A study from April 2020 found that dizziness was a common early stage indicator of COVID-19, with another study from the same month stated that dizziness, along with other neurological symptoms like loss of smell & taste, and headache, occurred in the first week of the illness.
In addition, two more case studies, one from April 2020 & another from June 2020, reported dizziness as the only neurological symptom appearing in the early stages of a COVID infection in a defined number of patients.
Can dizziness last after COVID-19?
Although it was a lesser known phenomenon before, some researchers have now come to realize the existence of something called ‘long haul COVID’.
The term is an umbrella analogy given to a range of symptoms, both physical & neurological, that perturb a patient long after their recovery from COVID-19.
These patients, who report experiencing symptoms well after the resolution of the actual illness, are termed as ‘long haulers’ by the medical community.
Some of the most commonly reported symptoms among the long haulers are:
- Trouble concentrating & memory lapses, also known as ‘brain fog’
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pains
- Heart palpitations or rapid breathing
- Body aches & pains
- Trouble falling &/or staying asleep
- A low grade fever
- Gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea & constipation
Dizziness & vertigo as a post-COVID complication is usually not a problem, & can be taken care of in an outpatient setting by a Vertigo specialist.
Your doctor will likely prescribe you some vertigo medicines & vertigo exercises to help relieve you of your symptoms.
If your symptoms get severe however, immediately consult your doctor & get a peoper diagnosis done.