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Dizziness in children is often difficult to detect. Children are at times unable to explain the problem properly and, in their playfulness, may not notice it at all. If a healthy child suddenly feels lightheaded or unsteady, there is not much to worry about. It may be a natural phenomenon caused by a simple spinning motion during playtime or due to moving up very fast from a particular position.
Please also note that vertigo and dizziness are not one and the same thing. Dizziness is an overall feeling of being lightheaded, unsteady, disoriented etc. symptoms of which we will discuss in details in a section below. Vertigo, on the other hand, is a different and definite kind of dizziness. Vertigo in children may be suspected if they complain of dizziness accompanied by a spinning sensation of the entire room and the sensation of titling, rocking and/or flipping.
However, if either vertigo or dizziness persists and aggravates you should consult your doctor immediately because studies indicate that many of the cases of dizziness in children go unreported because they cannot be identified easily.
Common Causes of Dizziness in Kids
The cause of dizziness in children is varied. One has to identify whether the cause is physiological or psychological. Dizziness is caused by the conditions mentioned below:
- Disorder of the inner ear or Meniere’s disease.
- Excessive buildup of fluid in the inner ear.
- Some other inner-ear problem or infection
Brain or Head Problems
- Migraine: A disease marked mainly by a specific type of headache, motion sickness, nausea and some other signs and symptoms. However, note that a vestibular migraine may not be accompanied by a headache. It may rather involve vertigo, motion, light sensitivity etc.
- Epilepsy: A problem in the functioning of the brain cells.
- Chiari 1: Malformation of the cerebellar (part of the brain) tonsils.
- Genetic ataxia: Damage in the cerebellum, spinal cord or some other nerve because of a gentic issue.
- A brain tumour
- Head injury
Other Medical Problems
- Benign Paroxysmal Vertigo that is accompanied by bouts of vertigo and balance problem without hearing loss or tinnitus.
- MDD (Mal de Debarquement) is a kind of vertigo caused by rocking sensations that happen after a boat, ship or any other kind of sea travel.
- Drop in blood pressure, accompanied by Syncope or temporary fainting.
- Hyperventilation (over-breathing) or holding one’s breath
- Hypothyroidism, where the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones.
- A cardiac problem
- Developmental delay
- Muscle pain or problems
- Psychological distress
Signs and Symptoms of Dizziness
The first step is to understand if the child is really suffering from clinical dizziness. Watch out if the child persistently complains of a feeling of being:
- Foggy or cloudy sensation
- Woozy movement or feeling
- Spinning head
- Unsteady gait
- Darting/jumping eyes
In very young children it is very difficult to detect. Watch out if the child:
- Reports that his/her tummy or head feels uncomfortable
- Walks unsteadily
- is clumsy in his activities
- Tends to fall down
- Displays disturbance or developmental delay in motor skills like difficulty on holding the head upright, crawling, standing and finally walking.
In extreme cases, dizziness may be accompanied by unconsciousness/fainting as well. Please see a doctor for treatment immediately.
How to Treat Dizziness in Children
Dizziness can be temporary and does not require treatment if it is caused by simple movement changes during playtime or a simple ear infection. However, treatment is required if the child complains of persistent dizziness. The treatment will depend upon the main cause of dizziness. Some of the possible treatment methods are:
- In case of Meniere’s disease, diuretics are used to reduce water retention.
- Increased water intake and salt intake in case of dehydration.
- Rehabilitation exercises and physical therapy like head exercises for vertigo.
- Cardiac interventions if any heart problems are detected.
- Conventional treatment, therapy and medication for anaemia, epilepsy, migraine, Chiari 1, genetic ataxia, head injury, developmental issues.
- High-dose steroids and vestibular rehabilitation under a specialist may be recommended for dizziness that is caused due to a viral infection, does not resolve on its own and causes long-term balance deficits for weeks, months or even years.
- In dizziness caused by certain vestibular problems accompanied by anxiety, doctors may suggest habituation-based vestibular rehabilitation with a physical therapist, cognitive behavioural therapy and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) therapy.
- Surgery, in rare cases, such as severe brain tumours.
When to Consult a Doctor
You should see a doctor immediately if the child complains of dizziness along with:
- Head injury
- Stiff neck
- High fever
- Vision problems
- Loss of hearing
- Speech problems
- Weakness in the legs or difficulty walking
- Chest discomfort/pain and/or breathing problems
- Slow pulse
Since dizziness is difficult to detect in children you must not ignore any complaints, signs or symptoms. It is important to get treatment early because dizziness may be caused by some serious underlying diseases.