Meclizine is an antihistamine with anticholinergic, central nervous system and labyrinth (inner ear) depressant effects, so meclizine may cause drowsiness, confusion, memory impairment, and slow reaction time.
While migraine is the most common (and most under recognized) cause of dizziness, making up approximately 60% of all dizzy patients, Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV – aka the “crystal” problem) is second, making up about 15%. In neither condition is meclizine indicated. Meclizine would have minimal, if any benefit for migraine and may help blunt the vertigo associated with BPPV, but we are now able to instantly cure those suffering from BPPV, so why use meclizine at all?
Meclizine may be helpful short term in acute vestibular disfunction (sudden onset of vertigo), such as in vestibular neuritis (without hearing loss) or labyrinthitis (with hearing loss), an attack of Meniere’s, or to reduce motion sickness during travel. When used for these conditions or situations, only a short course, perhaps 3-7 days, should be prescribed.
Chronic use of meclizine is never indicated. Use of meclizine in the elderly, especially in the setting of peripheral neuropathy and/or vision loss from cataract, glaucoma or macular degeneration, may cause more imbalance and lead to painful falls. Chronic use of meclizine following vestibular nerve damage (such as with vestibular neuritis or labyrinthitis, trauma, or Meniere’s) will actually prevent the brain from adjusting and will reduce the effectiveness of vestibular rehabilitation therapy (a specialized form of physical therapy).
If you know of anyone who takes meclizine on a regular basis, please let them know there likely is a better treatment option available. As we are now better able determine the underlying cause of dizziness and vertigo, we have also developed more effective, targeted treatments.