Vertigo and its Effects on Swimmers

vertigo relief

Jack Sorenson, one of Arizona's top youngest swimmers, suffers from vertigo. When he was 11, Jack would gasp for air in the middle of the pool while trying not to drown. He did not understand what was going on back then. What he knew was that his vision was spinning even when he was just standing still. 

 That was just one of his many encounters with vertigo. The quest to find vertigo relief is more challenging for Jack and other swimmers living with vertigo as they spend most of their time in deep pool waters.

If you also love swimming but suffer from vertigo attacks, this blog is for you. In this blog, you will understand the common vertigo triggers for swimmers like Jack. We will also teach you how to conquer and cope with your vertigo episodes.

What Triggers Vertigo Attacks While Swimming?

Some swimmers find themselves spinning and disoriented after simply swimming in the pool. The whirling feeling they get is commonly known as vertigo, a symptom that arises from a problem in the inner ear. It is a common symptom that swimmers and athletes deal with. But what triggers it?

Water in Ear

If you get cold water in your ear while swimming, you may experience vertigo. The vertigo symptom may occur hours or days later after the incident. A buildup of fluid can change the pressure and temperature in the inner ear. Additionally, having excess water in the inner ear can seed the onset of Meniere’s disease. It is also a condition that causes vertigo episodes, hearing loss, and ringing in the ears.

Panic attack and anxiety

Swimming in deep water if you’re not used to it or swimming in competitions can increase someone’s anxiety levels. Too much anxiety can cause someone to experience panic attacks—and eventually, vertigo. When you are dealing with a panic attack, your brain turns into a fight-or-flight response. This causes intense physical sensations of fear. When you panic, you may experience increased heart rate, racing heartbeat, muscle tension, and hyperventilation.


Like any other sport, exercise, or workout, swimming can also cause a reduction in body fluids. Your body still releases sweat each time you swim. When you lose more fluid than your intake, you will experience dehydration. Swimmers who are often dehydrated have lower blood volume and lower blood pressure. As a result, oxygen may not reach your brain and inner ear the way it should. This problem can lead to bouts of vertigo before, during, and after swimming.


Panic and fear when swimming can cause hyperventilation or shortness of breath. It can decrease the amount of oxygen in your blood. As a result, your brain may not be getting enough amount of oxygen to function well. Hyperventilation also reduces your body’s carbon dioxide level, which leads to the narrowing of the blood vessels. As a result, your brain and inner ear may not receive enough blood supply. The reduction of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and blood supply can cause symptoms of vertigo and lightheadedness.


Undoubtedly, long hours of training and prolonged physical activity in the pool can cause a high stress level. Stress can elevate your body’s cortisol hormone. This hormone can impair the normal function of your vestibular system that controls your balance. In addition, stress can also increase your heart rate, affecting your breathing and narrowing down your blood vessels.

vertigo relief

What Are the Other Triggers of Vertigo Episodes?

Besides swimming, patients who often experience vertigo episodes note other triggers of their recurring symptoms. These include the following conditions:

#1. Benign Recurrent Vertigo (BRV)

BRV or benign recurrent vertigo is a poorly misunderstood vestibular problem that causes spinning sensations, photophobia, sensory sensitivity, and tinnitus. Some studies claim that it’s a form of vertiginous migraine aura. However, others believe that it results from labyrinthitis or vestibular neuritis.

#2. Mal de Débarquement Syndrome

There aren’t a lot of patients who ask, “can a chiropractor help with vertigo?” because of Mal de Débarquement Syndrome. But, many doctors and ENT specialists agree that it’s a highly debilitating syndrome that can severely impact a person’s life. Unlike in most vertigo-causing disorders, the spinning or shaking sensation follows a period of rest after disembarking from a ship or plane.

Most patients diagnosed with these conditions use medications that slow down brain and nerve activities. They also try doing displacement exercises such as bicycling, walking, and jogging to cope with their symptoms.

#3. Bilateral vestibulopathy

Bilateral vestibulopathy is a condition that develops because of malfunctions in your body’s balance organs like the inner ears. Unfortunately, researchers remain clueless as to why it happens.

However, some studies note that gentamicin may be a side effect, an antibiotic commonly used for inner ear infections. It also appears to develop among patients who previously had an acoustic neuroma, Mondini malformation, and Meniere's disease. It causes posture and balance problems, unsteadiness of the gait, dizziness, and spinning sensations that worsen during locomotion.

#4. Acute Unilateral Vestibular Hypofunction

Acute Unilateral Vestibular Hypofunction is among the most severe causes of vestibular problems. It primarily develops when your balance system and peripheral vestibular system are out of whack. As the name suggests, it only affects one of the vestibular systems, so recovery and healing are quite possible if you get diagnosed with this disorder.

Studies explain that it primarily develops because of weakened inner ear structures, blood clots, and tumor growth in the ears. It causes many debilitating symptoms, including:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Vertigo and dizziness
  • Loss of balance, especially when turning the head
  • Trouble walking straight, especially in dark or crowded areas
  • Blurry vision that worsens when moving or tilting the head

#5. Oscillopsia

Oscillopsia mainly affects the eyes, so sometimes people assume it doesn't connect with the vestibular or balance system. However, in truth, balance perception essentially involves the sense of sight because it helps the brain gauge the body's position in relation to the environment.

Unfortunately, patients diagnosed with oscillopsia have trouble sensing movements or balance changes because objects often appear to jiggle, jump or vibrate. This increases one's vulnerability to a debilitating vertigo attack.

#6. Transient Vestibular Dysfunction

Transient vestibular dysfunction often triggers the rapid onset of vertigo attacks. It also causes gait unsteadiness, vomiting, nausea, and nystagmus that lingers for several days. Doctors and ENT professionals mostly use the HINTS (head impulse, nystagmus patterns, test of skews) and MRI scans to diagnose a suspected case of acute transient vestibular syndrome.

#7. Meniere’s Disease

While this vestibular condition only affects about 0.2% of the population, tens of thousands of cases are diagnosed each year in the US alone. Why is Meniere’s on the rise? Some believe it is related to undiagnosed whiplash and other head and neck trauma. Regardless of the initial cause, Meniere’s disease is known for presenting with serious vertigo bouts that last anywhere from 20 minutes to 24 hours. The good news is that vertigo seems to happen less frequently as the condition advances. The bad news is that hearing loss and other symptoms like tinnitus (ringing in the ears) seem to increase. In fact, while this condition is usually only experienced in one ear, patients who don’t seek care can sometimes find that it starts up in the other ear as well.

#8. Vestibular Neuritis

The ears send signals back and forth to the brain by means of the vestibular nerve. When a person is sick with a virus (i.e., a head cold or the flu), this nerve can become inflamed. Sometimes the inflammation can last for several days after the person is feeling better. As long as the nerve is inflamed, vertigo can strike.

#9. Labyrinthitis

We wanted to address this immediately following vestibular neuritis because even some major online medical sites confuse these two conditions. They are similar and have similar symptoms and causes. However, while vestibular neuritis is due to inflammation of the vestibular nerve, labyrinthitis stem from inflammation of the inner ear (also called the labyrinth). Similar viruses can cause the problem, and it usually resolves within a few days after the illness resolves.

#10. Medication Side Effects

It may seem like an easy fix to just quit the medication that is causing your vertigo, but it is rarely that simple with the types of medications that cause vertigo. For example, blood pressure medication is one common culprit. Since high blood pressure is often more dangerous than a small risk of falling, the doctor is unlikely to recommend stopping your medication over something like vertigo. However, your physician may be able to adjust the amount of a medication you take, or which brand, in order to address the vertigo issue. Other medications that are often related vertigo are antidepressants and antianxiety drugs. Once again, you will want to address the problem with your physician to determine if medication amounts or brands should be adjusted.

#11. Migraines

Vestibular migraines refer to any migraine that presents with vestibular symptoms such as vertigo. Since this makes up about 40% of cases, migraines are one of the biggest causes of vertigo. Don’t write off migraines just because you don’t get a headache. Headaches are only a migraine symptom in 85-90% of cases. Migraines are a neurological condition and one of the most common causes of central vertigo (vertigo that has an underlying cause in the central nervous system rather than the ear).

#12. Head or Neck Trauma

From concussion to whiplash, the onset of vertigo often begins in the wake of a traumatic injury. However, since symptoms may follow months or even years after an injury, a full patient history is an important part of getting the proper diagnosis for the underlying cause of vertigo.

Best Ways Swimmers Can Cope with Vertigo

Finding vertigo relief means a lot to swimmers suffering from vertigo attacks. And just like Jack, you should not give up until you get rid of vertigo that prevents you from reaching the finish line. Here are ways on how you can cope with vertigo and relieve it naturally.

#1. Learn how to manage stressors

When your body enters survival mode because of the increased levels of adrenaline and other stress hormones, you become susceptible to all kinds of problems, including vertigo attacks. That’s why it pays to know a few stress management techniques to help you keep your cool.

#2. Relax the mind with Tai chi and Yoga

These two exercises make an excellent way to calm the nerves. They also help improve balance and keep your nervous system in good condition.

#3. Try canalith repositioning maneuvers

Many patients with vertigo symptoms experience relief after trying canalith repositioning maneuvers such as the Epley Maneuver. Essentially, these exercises help restore dislodged canalith or calcium crystals.

#4. Always hydrate yourself

One of the easiest ways to prevent vertigo attacks in the pool is to hydrate frequently. So before going to swimming training, be sure to fuel yourself with enough fluid. 

#5. Do not be afraid to seek professional care

Do not deprive yourself of the benefit of seeking professional help. You may visit your doctor to examine the underlying condition that may be causing your vertigo while swimming. Visiting an upper cervical chiropractor is also an excellent step to begin your recovery journey. They work by correcting misalignments in the upper cervical spine, one of vertigo's most common root causes.

Enjoy Vertigo Relief Through Upper Cervical Chiropractic

We understand that finding vertigo relief can be difficult for swimmers. If you want to try something that works for many people, upper cervical chiropractors are the professionals to consult with. They practice upper cervical care, a gentle and precise technique that realigns your off-centered C1 and C2 bones.

Once your upper cervical spine is in proper alignment again, your body can begin recovering naturally. Make this your goal and begin your journey today by visiting a local upper cervical chiropractor.

Find An Upper Cervical Doctor in Your Areato schedule a consultation today.

Find an Upper Cervical Specialist In Your Area

to schedule a consultation today.

Featured Articles


Montel Williams
Montel Williams

TV show host Montel Williams describes how specific chiropractic care has helped his body.

NBC's The Doctors

The TV show "The Doctors" showcased Upper Cervical Care.

CBS News/Migraine Relief

CBS News highlighted the alleviation of Migraines and Headaches.

The content and materials provided in this web site are for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to supplement or comprise a medical diagnosis or other professional opinion, or to be used in lieu of a consultation with a physician or competent health care professional for medical diagnosis and/or treatment. All content and materials including research papers, case studies and testimonials summarizing patients' responses to care are intended for educational purposes only and do not imply a guarantee of benefit. Individual results may vary, depending upon several factors including age of the patient, severity of the condition, severity of the spinal injury, and duration of time the condition has been present.