COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, has affected millions of people worldwide since it was first identified in late 2019. While the most common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, and shortness of breath, some people may experience dizziness as well.
We will explore the potential causes of dizziness in COVID-19 patients, as well as give you some tips for managing this symptom.
1. The effect on the inner ear
One of the primary ways that COVID-19 can cause dizziness is through its effect on the inner ear.
The inner ear, or vestibular system, is responsible for our sense of balance, and it is possible for the virus to directly affect this part of the body.
This mechanism is similar to vestibular neuritis or vestibular labyrinthitis. Vestibular neuritis is caused by a virus that attacks the nerve going to the inner ear, while labyrinthitis affects the whole inner ear system and results in hearing loss.
According to a study published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, SARS-CoV-2 has been detected in the middle ear and mastoid bone of some COVID-19 patients, indicating that the virus may be able to infect the inner ear as well.
If the virus is able to infect the inner ear, it can lead to inflammation and other complications that may cause dizziness.
2. The effect on blood flow oxygenation
Another potential cause of dizziness in COVID-19 patients is related to the respiratory system.
The virus can cause inflammation and damage to the lungs, which can lead to a decrease in oxygen levels in the body. This decrease in oxygen can cause a number of symptoms, including dizziness.
When the body is deprived of oxygen, it can become difficult to maintain proper blood flow, which can lead to dizziness, lightheadedness, and other symptoms that actually can present similarly to a concussion (headache, nausea, light/noise sensitivity, etc.).
3. Dehydration and Disuse
It is also possible for COVID-19 to indirectly cause dizziness through other symptoms or complications.
For example, some people with the virus may experience a fever, which can cause dehydration. Dehydration can cause a drop in blood pressure, which can lead to dizziness. Additionally, fatigue, muscle aches, and other symptoms of COVID-19 can cause a person to feel dizzy or lightheaded.
It's also important to note, that if there was a period of time that you were unable to move or be very active, maybe due to feeling so sick, or being hospitalized, that can cause weakness to your muscles and joints, and also to your vestibular system.
It's the ol' "use it or lose it principle".
Healing Steps to Wellness
If you are experiencing dizziness as a result of COVID-19, it is important to take steps to manage the symptom.
One of the most important and simple things you can do is to get plenty of rest and stay hydrated.
This means pacing out your activities and drinking at least 64 oz. of water a day.
If you are experiencing difficulty breathing, it is important to seek medical attention right away, as this could be a sign of a more serious issue.
Additionally, you may want to try taking deep breaths or doing breathing exercises to help increase your oxygen levels and improve blood flow.
Diaphragmatic breathing is a great exercise to help increase oxygenation to the brain, lower your heart rate and blood pressure, and activate your body’s relaxation system (parasympathetic nervous system).
Begin lying on your back with your knees bent and feet resting on the floor.
Or alternatively, sitting up with your knees in a comfortable position
Inhale for 3-4 seconds, focusing on expanding your belly instead of your chest.
Hold for 2 seconds
Then exhale out slowly for 6-8 seconds, drawing in your abdominals as if you are pulling your belly button toward the floor
Repeat as needed (5-10 times is a good place to start!)
If the dizziness is severe or persistent, it may be necessary to seek medical attention. Your healthcare provider may recommend treatments, like medications or therapy, to help manage the symptom and any underlying conditions that may be contributing to it.
How vestibular therapy can help people post COVID-19
1. Improving balance:
As mentioned, COVID-19 can cause damage to the inner ear, which is responsible for maintaining balance.
Vestibular therapy can help by improving balance through exercises that strengthen the vestibular system. This can help you reduce the feeling of dizziness or unsteadiness that you may experience post COVID-19.
2. Reducing vertigo:
Vestibular therapy can also be helpful in reducing vertigo, which is a sensation of spinning or whirling.
This can be a particularly distressing symptom!
It can cause nausea, vomiting, and other unpleasant symptoms. Vestibular therapy can help reduce vertigo by teaching you how to retrain your brain to adjust to different movements and positions.
3. Enhancing muscle strength and coordination:
COVID-19 can cause muscle weakness and fatigue, which can impact a person's ability to balance and move around.
Vestibular therapy can help by focusing on improving muscle strength and coordination, which can lead to improving your balance and reduced dizziness.
4. Managing anxiety and depression:
COVID-19 can cause a range of emotional symptoms, including anxiety and depression. These symptoms can impact your ability to participate in therapy, exercise, and can also exacerbate feelings of dizziness or unsteadiness.
Vestibular therapy can be helpful in managing these emotional symptoms by providing a safe and supportive environment for people to learn and practice exercises.
To read more about the link to anxiety and dizziness check out our blog: Is my dizziness making me anxious? Or is my anxiety making me dizzy?
5. Improving quality of life:
The symptoms of COVID-19 can be debilitating and can impact your ability to perform daily activities.
Vestibular therapy can be helpful in improving your quality of life by reducing symptoms of dizziness and vertigo, and by helping you feel more confident and in control of your movements and daily life!
Overall, dizziness is a potential symptom of COVID-19, and it can be caused by a variety of factors. Whether it is related to damage to the inner ear, a decrease in oxygen levels, or other symptoms of the virus, it is important to take steps to manage the symptom.
Vestibular therapy can be an effective treatment option for people post COVID-19 who are experiencing dizziness, vertigo, and balance issues.
If you are experiencing these symptoms, it is important to talk to a healthcare provider that understands about the complexities of the vestibular system and COVID-19 about your options for treatment.