Navigating Vestibular Symptoms

I woke up and knew at once that this would be an inner-ear “off day.” I would need all my self-help tactics for navigating unwelcome vestibular symptoms.

My left ear – my problem ear – felt totally stuffed up. The tinnitus was in uproar – much louder than usual with very high-pitched, rapid-fire morse-code dits. Wobbly and lightheaded, I slammed into the door frame.

My stomach was vaguely upset stomach but not to the point of nausea. Although the sky was overcast, the world was way too bright. Time for sunglasses – in the house! Luckily, I did not have a headache and the world did not spin.

While hearing loss and communication struggles are limiting, vestibular events make people feel helpless and out-of-control. Although self-limiting, they are pretty much unpredictable and can set off serious anxiety reactions. Previous episodes had taught me how to read the warning signs. I also learned that I had to stay calm. Giving in to panic reactions only makes things worse.

Importance of diagnosis and action plan

Having dealt with sudden hearing loss and tinnitus for years, I was ill-prepared for added vestibular challenges. Initially, I wondered what might cause these off days. Ménière’s Disease? Vestibular migraines? The doctor felt that it might be a bit of both. The two conditions are related and symptoms overlap. “Vestibular patients are diagnostic challenges,” he added. And so, they are!

Trying to unravel such mystery episodes, physicians depend a lot on the accurate descriptions of symptoms and order of events. Although tests might not provide definitive answers, it is important to find out what it is NOT. In my case, I was happy to learn that I did not have an aneurysm, brain tumor, BPPV or strokes. Also, patients need an action plan with appropriate instructions and medications for easing symptoms.

In support meetings, the discussions become very lively when people share what external triggers might have set off such upsetting experiences for them. Stress and certain foods are frequently mentioned. However, many including myself – feel that there is a strong correlation between barometric pressure swings and vestibular issues.  

Over time, I learned from my peers that people come up with their own self-help recipes. Yet, aggressive cases involving vertigo and nausea and vomiting often make a trip to the Emergency Department necessary.

Self-help: what works for you?

I had to kick back and take a vestibular health day. No telephone. No computer. I do not meditate but I do believe that it could help. Maybe, I have to add it to my rescue list.

With sunglasses in place, I retired to the porch, the quietest area of the house. A cup of ginger and fennel tea was meant to stabilize the stomach and did an OK job. Noise-reducing headphones let me focus on the slow rather exotic tunes of Zen Meditation, a CD that I picked up years ago. It works for me. I can almost smell jasmine. Sometimes I fall asleep, which is the best outcome.  

In the end…

Living with hearing loss and vestibular problems requires patience and persistence. Learning about it has given me a lot of peace and boosted my confidence. Life keeps on changing. The best I can do is to remain aware of warning signs, accept the new realities as they arise and adapt to them.


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