AARP Eye Center
Lauren Gerlach was in the middle of a workout video, doing leg lifts that required bending over and steadying herself on the back of a chair, when it began: “This wave of nausea hit, and the room began whirling around me,” she recalls. The sensation lasted for about 10 seconds, and because Gerlach, 45, had been prone to bouts of motion sickness in the past, she dismissed the episode. But in the days following her workout, she felt a little dizzy and unsteady on her feet.
Then one night Gerlach awakened from a sound sleep and shot straight up in bed. “I looked across at the TV, which I always leave on when I sleep,” she says. “It was literally spinning in a circle — at least, that's how I saw it.” She raced to the bathroom and was sick.
AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal
Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP The Magazine.
That's vertigo. Almost 40 percent of adults in the U.S. will experience this unsettling sensation at some point in their lives, according to the University of California San Francisco. Defined as “an illusion of motion,” vertigo is a very specific type of dizziness. “If you have an illusion that you're moving and you're not, or have an illusion that the world is moving about you when it's not, you are having vertigo,” says Steven Rauch, a Boston-based ENT-otolaryngologist affiliated with Massachusetts Eye and Ear Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital.
A lot of people assume that vertigo has to be a spinning sensation, says Rauch, but it could be rocking, swaying, tumbling, or a feeling of bouncing up, as if you were on a pogo stick.