Meniere’s disease from the inside

The first Meniere attack was so surprising that I didn’t even know what it was. I’d been on a long flight to Maui and landed in a bad thunderstorm.  We stopped at a restaurant in the pouring rain to wait out the storm, and I ordered a pina colada to celebrate our arrival.  After the first sip, suddenly everything went wrong. 

Without warning I suddenly felt that I was moving, like my head was being pulled in a circle.  I grabbed the chair seat with both hands to keep from falling out.  The people around me seemed to be normal, chatting sociably, and no one seemed to notice that I had gone pale.  Shaking my head did not help, and I slowly realized that I was feeling a spinning sensation, but the room did not appear to move at all. After about 15 minutes it slowly ebbed away, leaving me feeling normal again.  I felt strange for a few minutes a couple of times that week, but it all resolved, and I hoped whatever it was would not come back.  A few months later I sadly discovered otherwise. 

That first spell was very mild, about 3/10 compared to later spells.  Over the next year the spells began to recur every few weeks, and they got longer and more violent.  It was about a year before I noticed the hearing loss. Once that started a pattern became clear.  I’d hear a very low, rumbling roar in my left ear, like the blowing sound you hear when you put a conch shell over your ear.  Whenever this started, I could tell that my ear couldn’t hear very well.  I could rub my fingers next to that ear and not hear anything at all.  Sound seemed distorted and far away when using the phone on that side.  The roaring sound was an indicator that a vertigo spell was going to start. 

I’d feel a bit tilted, and then suddenly the room would begin to shift or slide past me, gradually speeding up.  In the worst spells it was hard to focus at all, the world was spinning so fast.  Moving my eyes to one side made it spin faster, and I could slow it down by looking to the other side.  Moving my head quickly could make me sick to my stomach. The only solution was to go lie down, try to find the most comfortable position, and lie there without moving for a few hours.  Eventually the vertigo would start to slow down and the roaring sound would decline, but for several hours after that I could make the ringing and the vertigo start again if I put my head upside down.   

I was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease after a hearing test showed a loss of about half my hearing in the left ear during a spell.  However, the process was mysterious because I developed several other spectacular symptoms.  The left side of my face became weak during many of the spells.  The most severe spell resulted in paralysis of one side of my body, and many spells were linked with sparkling and flashing lights in my vision, called migraine aura. Some researchers thought that migraine caused Meniere’s disease, so my case helped support that belief.  As it turned out, that was a little too simplistic.

In my next post, I’ll go over the reasons these things happen in Meniere’s disease.

Published by Vertigone

I translate the medical world of dizziness for non-medical people

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