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OPINION: Being dizzy

by Devin Houston | July 14, 2021 at 5:25 a.m.

The dogs started barking, waking me and the wife from a sound sleep. I got up, opened the door and yelled at them to shut up. I stumbled back to bed, noticed it was about 2 a.m., then rolled over onto my left side. Immediately the room began spinning violently. The motion was so fast that I gripped the mattress to keep from falling out of bed, even though some part of my brain knew I was not really moving.

I've had "dizzy spells" since childhood. I would wake up to my room spinning. Lying perfectly still was the only way to diminish the dizziness. Doctor visits found nothing obviously wrong and I would get over the spell after a day or so. I think Mom felt I was just trying to get out of going to school.

I had an episode several years ago in London upon waking in a hotel. We had to catch a train, though, and not being able to be still made the ride especially stressful. Once we got home, I consulted a doctor who used what is called the Epley maneuver to manipulate my head in certain directions. The relief from the dizziness was almost immediate. I learned how to perform the maneuver by myself and would use it whenever I felt a dizzy spell was oncoming.

The problem is known as benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV. It is quite common, particularly in those over 50. Many of you reading this are probably so afflicted. It is caused by crystals of calcium falling out of a small organ in the inner ear into the fluid of the semicircular canals, which control our balance and keep us aware of our head positioning. The crystals tend to disturb the fluid which activates the brain into believing we are moving when we are not. The Epley maneuver is designed to move the crystals back into their proper place, out of the fluid.

This particular episode was different from any other I've experienced. The motions were much faster and would not stop. I attempted the Epley maneuver without success. I was also experiencing severe nausea and vomiting, something not known to happen to me in previous episodes.

A day in bed, staying as still as possible, helped but I could not do anything other than sit in a chair, slightly reclined. This all started on Memorial Day weekend, and I hoped to recover to enjoy the holiday, but it was not to be. The dizziness lessened each day but still remained. After a week of this, I began to wonder if something else was going on besides BPPV.

My doctor was out of town, but I was directed to a physician's assistant who prescribed some anti-nausea meds and referred me to an ear, nose and throat specialist. Due to some miscommunication between the physicians' offices, I did not see the ENT doctor until some two weeks later. By this time, my dizziness had diminished to the point of occurring only when I was bent over for any length of time, such as tying my shoelaces. She said there wasn't much they could do if I wasn't having an ongoing dizzy spell. I was told to call their office when the next episode occurred, which they assured me was highly likely.

So now, I just have a general feeling of unsteadiness. I try not to make sudden moves and sleep on my right side as much as possible in an elevated position. Rolling over onto my left side causes a brief moment of vertigo but passes quickly. I dread the thought of another attack.

My malady is minor compared to what many others must cope with as we age. I don't have constant pain, I can still drive, go to work, and do some physical activities. Dizziness is not life-threatening, but it is an inconvenience. I know others with BPPV who experienced an episode while driving, which is a scary situation. I wonder how many traffic deaths could be attributed to a driver suddenly experiencing a loss of balance resulting in an accident?

It's been six weeks since my initial episode. I find I must avoid or limit anything that causes my inner ear to vibrate, such as riding a lawnmower or skid steer. Certain noises seem to oscillate at a frequency that aggravates the loss of equilibrium, not surprising since the ear is involved in both hearing and balance.

Perhaps, in the future, a medical remedy will be found for BPPV. It can't come soon enough for me.

-- Devin Houston is the president/CEO of Houston Enzymes. Send comments or questions to [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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