Lightheadedness is a feeling of faintness, dizziness, or being close to passing out. It can occur alongside vertigo, which affects balance and makes a person feel as though they or their surroundings are spinning. Although lightheadedness and vertigo can feel similar, they have different causes.

Experiencing some episodes of lightheadedness is normal. In most cases, these episodes will pass quickly, especially if a person sits or lies down to rest.

In this article, learn about the common causes of lightheadedness. We also cover possible underlying medical conditions and treatment options.

woman sitting down holding her temples due to lightheadedness
Causes of lightheadedness can include illnesses, anxiety, and dehydration.

The most common cause of lightheadedness is orthostatic hypotension, which is a sudden drop in blood pressure when a person stands up.

Positional changes, especially quick ones, divert blood flow temporarily from the brain to the body. It is more likely that this will result in lightheadedness when a person is dehydrated or ill.

The feeling usually passes quickly, especially if a person sits down again.

Other common causes of lightheadedness include:

  • allergies
  • illnesses, such as the cold or flu
  • altitude sickness
  • hyperventilating
  • anxiety
  • stress
  • dehydration
  • prolonged exposure to hot weather
  • low blood sugar
  • alcohol, tobacco, or drug use
  • certain medications

Sometimes, lightheadedness may have a more severe underlying cause, such as:

If lightheadedness is due to a more serious underlying condition, a person will usually experience additional symptoms.

While lightheadedness does not usually require medical care, a doctor may sometimes recommend one of the following treatments, depending on the underlying cause:

Medications could include:

  • diuretics
  • anti-anxiety medications
  • antinausea medications
  • medications for migraines

If a doctor recommends physical therapy for lightheadedness, a physical therapist is likely to teach a person exercises to improve their balance.

In people who have lightheadedness due to anxiety, a doctor may recommend psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help them manage this condition. A therapist may provide other coping mechanisms to reduce a person's stress levels.

In very rare cases, a doctor may advise surgery for repeated episodes of lightheadedness and vertigo. A surgeon will perform a labyrinthectomy, which is the removal of part or all of the inner ear.