When the world spins a bit too much
Posted by joeabbott on December 23, 2014
It’s been too long since I last posted to ignore that I’m late, and yet my thoughts are a flurry. I need to start planning the new chicken coop, have a woodworking project in mind, and the usual minor mess to clean up in my home office and garage to deal with … but I’m on vacation after a trying bit of work and it’s time to decompress.
Over a week ago I awoke and, as I turned to get out of bed, a wave of dizziness washed over me. It was intense, discomforting, but short-lived. I’d felt this sensation before but only twice or so, and always in the company of a massive headache.
This time, however, I felt fine except for the room spinning when I moved quickly, or especially when I looked up … as I might if helping Suzy hang decorations high in the house. I wasn’t too terribly worried; work has been challenging and the holidays had us go-go-going, so I hoped that the coming week at work things would start easing off for the holidays and things would return to normal.
Far from it, however. I stayed home on Monday but Tuesday came and I chose not to go into work a second day, thinking lots of rest would get me over my issues. But Wednesday came and I was still swimmy. Most of the work-day was fine, but a quick turn of the head, getting up suddenly, or tipping my head back to finish a soda were all recipes for a brief, giddy ride on a room that suddenly swirled. It went on long enough that I started to fret about it returning to normal. And so I setup a doctor’s appointment for that Friday.
Well, I got to sleep early on Wednesday night but awoke at 1:30AM and was unable to get back to sleep. At 2:30AM I got up and well-before 4AM I was at my desk at work, cranking through details that weren’t getting done. It was a long, miserable day, but I hung in there and when I woke up at 4AM on Friday, it almost felt like I had slept in.
But, I was officially feeling miserable and happy to get to see the doctor that day. And, at that meeting, I learned about benign positional vertigo.
This Wikipedia article treats the topic far better than I will, but here’s the gist: the body manages balance via three mechanisms: sight, tactile senses, and a mechanism in the inner ear. Mess with one of these and you can start to lose your balance. What follows is completely my impression of cause and functionality, so please read the article (or this one) if you’re looking for real information and not just “impressions”.
A component of the inner ear that helps the body manage balance is a semi-circular, fluid-filled organ with sensitive linings that respond to the body moving and changing direction. There are also crystalline structures that can make their way into this organ and start to mess with the interaction of the fluid and lining. When the body changes direction, the fluid does what it always has done, but now the crystal moves along the lining, sending new signals to the brain, which then interprets that information as paradoxically to the information it’s getting from the eyes and tactile sensations. The confusion results in vertigo: a spinning dizziness.
While at the doctor’s office I laid back with my head turned to the right and then suddenly sat up. No sensation. We repeated this with my head oriented looking forward: only a mild bit of discomfort as I sat up. We repeated a final time but facing the left; as I got up the now-familiar and uncomfortable wave of spinning hit me. Ugh. It was interesting but, in addition to a few other simple tests convinced the doc I had benign positional vertigo.
Great, but what do I do about it?
Well, there’s a home treatment called the Modified Epley’s Maneuver that has you turn your head, lay back, look the other direction, turn that direction further, and then sit up. It’s almost goofy how simple it looks and I was skeptical this “treatment” was anything more than the equivalent of “wait it out”. But, I took the literature, thanked the doc, and went back to work.
Saturday came and I was feeling OK but the sensations were still there. I enjoyed a day of relative leisure and in the early afternoon went up for my first home-treatment for BPV. The first spin of my head brought about a bout of vertigo that was bad. Nausea-inducing “bad”. Bad enough to hand me a headache for most of the rest of the day, however, when I got up, the spinning was almost completely gone. It was as if someone had sprinkled fairy dust on my problem.
Throughout the day, I could still feel it lurking, but it was a shadow of its former self. Today I ran through the exercise again (and will do it again later), but it’s amazing how simply turning one’s head and laying down/sitting up can remedy something like this.
The theory behind the maneuver says you’re repositioning the crystalline structure to a part of the ear that’s not playing a role in balance. Sound, but still mystifying how simple yet effective it is.
And now, a couple days in, I still feel the spinning giddiness when I get up from sleep, but most of the time it’s gone. Pretty amazing but I’ll continue doing the simple exercise until it’s completely gone. While it may go without saying, I’m very much looking forward to this sensation being gone. Very much.