Parents have been spinning up to me with questions about when to worry if their child complains they are dizzy. Let me see if I can provide a balanced opinion on this topic.
Dizziness is a feeling of lightheadedness or faintness. It’s usually due to reduced blood flow to the brain for a brief time. In children, varieties of non-worrisome, normal events usually trigger dizziness:
- Allowing blood to pool in the legs and not get up to the brain as quickly as it should
- Standing up too suddenly can cause blood pressure to drop and dizziness to result
- Dehydration from too much sun or heat exposure can be a culprit
- Low oxygen intake such as after running when you are out of breath
- Migraine headaches
- Fasting or not getting enough sugar to energize the brain
- Motion sickness
- A virus or ear infection
Dizziness might also be due to a balance problem we call vertigo, but this is very rare in children. Medication side effects can also cause dizziness. This includes some medicines used for seizures, as well as some used for depression and blood pressure control in adolescents.
The good news is that the most common disorders that cause dizziness are not dangerous ones. They go away within a few minutes when standing up too quickly to a few days if it’s a viral infection. As for dehydration, give your child plenty of liquids when playing a sport and when playing in a warm environment.
If your child is going to be standing in one place for a long time, have them pump their legs. They can contract and relax their leg muscles to move blood back to the heart and brain. They can also simply sit down if they start to feel dizzy.
When do you worry? If you find your child’s dizziness isn’t going away in a period of a few days. Also, if there are other symptoms, including weakness, fatigue, abnormal eye movements or a change in how your child walks. If any of these symptoms accompany the dizziness, please check with your child’s health care professional.
Hopefully, tips like these will put you on a steady course if you think your child is unsteady or dizzy.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and MyNBC 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.