‘A throb hits you on the left side of the head so hard that your head bobs to the right. There’s no way that came from inside your head, you think. That’s no metaphysical crisis. God just punched you in the face’ – Andrew Levy
I wrote a while ago about suffering from migraines and how debilitating they can be and even though I only get on average about two a year, what I didn’t realise that being a sufferer opens you up to a multitude of other conditions I never knew anything about.
I’ll explain. About two years ago before I got married I was suffering from severe facial paralysis in my right cheek and dizziness, almost every day for about two months. It felt somewhat migrainous but nothing like any migraine attack I’d ever had before. So, I did what everyone does when they have weird symptoms. I Googled them. Worse idea ever! According to google and the symptoms checker on Boots.com I was having a stroke. Many trips back and forth to the GP and A&E followed and no one could get to the bottom of what was going on. No one could even tell me what it wasn’t! So after what felt like an eternity of tears and different medication (none of which worked) I eventually got an MRI scan, just to confirm it wasn’t a stroke or a brain tumor. Miraculously, almost as soon as I had the all clear from the scan, I started to feel better.
Turns out, the whole problem lies deep within my inner ear and I’ve eventually found out i suffer from BPPV (Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo) and Labrynthitis which affects about 40% of hemiplegic migraine sufferers. It’s easy to see how both conditions are linked to migraine as a lot of the symptoms are very similar. I get probably around 2/3 attacks a year lasting about 2 weeks severely, then peters off for another week or so where it’s not so bad. Now that I know what it is, I’ve found it so much more easy to manage.
It all stems from the labrynth in your inner ear. You have a collection of calcium crystals (otoconia and otoliths) which become dislodged which creates an imbalance and a severe feeling of vertigo. Thankfully, there doesn’t appear to be any lasting damage or dangers with suffering from BPPV, other than it’s bloody annoying! Equally as annoying though is that it’s only diagnosed from listing symptoms and there’s no real treatment other that sea sickness tablets, rest and trying as best as possible to just ride out the storm.
The main symptoms I experience is vertigo. It’s not like any vertigo I’ve ever experienced when up high. It’s a mixture of feeling car sick and that feeling you get when you’re really drunk and the room’s spinning (but without any of the fun) and it comes on in waves a couple of second a time about once an hour. I’m also extremely noise and motion sensitive, loud restaurants or bars or anywhere there are lots of kids makes my head spin a million times more. When going through the worse of an attack, blue backlighting seems to be one of the biggest triggers; smart phones, tablets, computer monitors, which makes my job very difficult. Being tired also doesn’t help (I actually find I sleep very well during a period of BPPV as it turns out trying to keep yourself balanced all day is pretty exhausting!). My GP also reckons that wearing earbud style headphones at the gym doesn’t help as it pushes sweat and grime down my ears and causes the infection.
After doing some research online and reading about other people’s symptoms I think I’m quite lucky in that some people can have attacks that last over 2 months. So what do I do when i’m having an attack? Well for the most part I just try and get on with life as best I can. It’s one of those conditions that can feel worse if you let it beat you and lie of the sofa for 3 weeks. I’ve found that some gentle exercise just as 20 minutes on a crosstrainer or treadmill can actually help; if nothing else it takes my mind off my symptoms for a while and i’m not symptomatic during the exercise it’s self. I try to make sure I eat regularly as that helps with the nausea and ‘sea sickness’ feeling. If i’m working I take over the counter travel sickness tablets (ones that contain Cinnarizine are the best in my opinion) and try and lay off the alcohol (nausea and dizziness is bad enough without having to deal with a hangover as well!)
It’s really hard to get your head round having a ‘condition’ when you’ve otherwise been fit and healthy your whole life. Symptoms like dizziness, numbess or visual disturbances are scary and it’s easy to let your mind, or google run away with you and convince you it’s something more sinister. It’s taken me a good couple of years to learn not to panic when these symptoms come back and accept that it’s just ‘something I get’ from time to time. I guess I just have to learn to not listen to that flea in my inner ear!