A Dizzying Complaint: Investigating the Intended Meaning of Dizziness Among Patients and Providers

John M Sommerfeldt, Jakob L Fischer, Danielle A Morrison, Edward D McCoul, Charles A Riley, Anthony M Tolisano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE/HYPOTHESIS: To assess for semantic differences regarding the definition of dizziness among otolaryngology patients, otolaryngologists, and non-otolaryngologist providers.

STUDY DESIGN: Cross-sectional survey.

METHODS: Between March and May 2020, a survey consisting of 20 common descriptors for dizziness within five domains (lightheadedness, motion sensitivity, imbalance, vision complaints, and pain) was completed by patients at two outpatient otolaryngology clinics. Surveys were subsequently obtained from otolaryngology and non-otolaryngology providers attending a multidisciplinary dizziness lecture. The primary outcome measure was to assess for differences in definition of dizziness between patients and providers. Secondary outcome measures included assessing differences between otolaryngologists and non-otolaryngologists.

RESULTS: About 221 patients and 100 providers participated. Patients selected a median of 7 terms compared to 8 for providers (P = .375), although providers had a larger overall distribution of number of terms selected (P = .038). Patients were more likely than providers to define dizziness according to the following domains: lightheadedness (difference 15.0%; 95% confidence interval [CI] 5.5%-25.3%), vision complaints (difference 21.6%, 95% CI 12.0%-29.6%), and pain (difference 11.5%, 95% CI 4.7%-17.1%). Providers were more likely to define dizziness according to the motion sensitivity domain (difference 13.8%, 95% CI 6.8%-19.6%). Otolaryngology and non-otolaryngology providers defined dizziness similarly across symptom domains.

CONCLUSION: Although patients and providers both view dizziness as imbalance, patients more commonly describe dizziness in the context of lightheadedness, vision complaints, and pain, whereas providers more frequently define dizziness according to motion sensitivity. These semantic differences create an additional barrier to effective patient-provider communication.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: 4. Laryngoscope, 131:E1443-E1449, 2021.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E1443-E1449
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2021


  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Communication
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dizziness/diagnosis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Otolaryngologists/statistics & numerical data
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Surveys and Questionnaires/statistics & numerical data


Dive into the research topics of 'A Dizzying Complaint: Investigating the Intended Meaning of Dizziness Among Patients and Providers'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this