People experience dizziness and feel disoriented for a number of reasons. Though we might call the feelings dizziness or vertigo, doctors make some distinctions: Dizziness is a lightheaded, faint or unsteady feeling, while vertigo has more of a spinning or moving sensation. Another problem called disequilibrium refers to imbalance and unsteadiness that can make you feel disoriented in the space you're in [source: Vestibular Disorders Association].
There is an endolymphatic fluid in our inner ears that tells our brains how we've moved. It can sometimes send the wrong signals. When this happens, we get a sense of dizziness. For example, when you spin quickly in a direction, the endolymph in your ear moves as well, sending signals of rapid movement to your brain. When you stop spinning, the endolymph is still moving (just like you continue to move forward if your car stops short). This sends the wrong messages to your brain, and gives you the feeling that you are still moving while your body is really stationary. Once the endolymph stops moving, the sensation goes away.
In addition, the otolithic organs in the ear process your sense of direction in relation to gravity. Anything that interferes with these organs' abilities to sense gravity will cause them to misfire. For example, astronauts in space are not subject to gravity, and they are often dizzy in space. Scuba divers face the same issue, because the buoyancy of the water also can affect the sense of gravity, leaving divers disoriented.
If you're not in outer space, diving or on a boat or carnival ride, however, you still might experience dizziness, vertigo or disequilibrium. The problems, often referred to as vestibular dysfunction, usually are caused by aging, head injuries or viral infections. Some are caused by certain genetic diseases or factors in the environment. For example, otitis media, or ear infection, can cause vestibular problems, but antibiotics can clear up ear infections. Some people with migraines have migraine-associated vertigo that causes vestibular problems and motion intolerance. Sometimes, a benign (noncancerous) tumor grows on the auditory nerve and causes problems with balance [source: Vestibular Disorders Association]. Dizziness also might be caused by not eating, nervous system disorders, vision problems, a tumor in the brain or even stress and fatigue.
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