Bilateral Vestibular Hypofunction

I’m going in once a week for vestibular rehabilitation therapy (VRT) now. Today was brutal. Lots of balancing exercises with head movements that weren’t too bad with my eyes open, but almost impossible once I closed my eyes.

It turns out I’m dealing with bilateral vestibular hypofunction, which means my vestibular system (inner ears) aren’t working in terms of balance because my brain stopped trusting the information it was sending back in late January/early February for some reason (they think it was probably because of my temporary bout with BPPV).  Since it wasn’t being used much anymore, my vestibular system kinda stopped working (or is barely working), and by early March my brain was overcompensating so much to make up for the lack of information from my  inner ears that it started screwing with my cognitive functions, which in turn triggered short term memory loss, confusion, panic, and mental and physical exhaustion. So I wasn’t going nuts – but it would have been nice to have had this explained earlier (my Doctor didn’t really tell me anything other than my MRI was fine and I needed to go to physical therapy.  My therapist, on the other hand, got my medical records and explained everything that was happening to me as well as what we were going to do to fix it.  She rocks!)

The VRT forces my vestibular system to function again, my brain to relearn how to read the information it’s being sent, as well as coordinating my eye movement in relation to my head movement (that’s to fix the oscillopsia, which is when everything I see bounces up and down or side to side with head movement, walking, or when I hit a bump while driving. It’s one of the symptoms of  vestibular hypofunction and it’s why I hate driving so much–‘specially at night.)

Besides the VRT, I have exercises that I’m supposed to do at home every day that coordinate head movement with eye movement, and “balance tasks for vestibular system adaptation.”  All this really means is that I shake my head in different directions while trying to focus on a letter on an eye chart, and do balance exercises with my eyes open and then closed.  It’s also a lot harder than I expected.  Sadly I could have done all this about three months ago without even thinking about it – while now I have trouble standing up straight with my eyes closed.

My physical therapist also recommended using our Wii Fit board for additional balance exercises, and said that yard work is a very good form of therapy too.  I wonder how painting walls and installing hardwood floors ranks as therapy?

The Results are In

My blood tests came out fine, as did my MRI.  The doctor said that my problem is just benign positional vertigo and set me up with a physical therapist to retrain my brain so I can function normally again.  That’ll be nice because I’m tired of wobbling through the halls and down the sidewalks like a drunken sailor.  And the pressure in my head is driving me nuts, so I’ll be relieved to have that gone as well.  Even when there’s no headache– sometimes I worry that my brain is going to pop and I’ll start dribbling brain juice out of my ears.

Sadly, he said he couldn’t do anything about the increased ringing in my ears.

Fuck Epley and fuck BPPV

It got about 50 percent better last week before all going to shit yesterday morning.  I can’t walk without holding on to walls, can’t drive, can’t think straight (although that might be because my brain is too busy trying to keep me upright), and I keep breaking down in tears (sometimes over small stupid stuff – twice before work even started on Saturday).  Last night I couldn’t stop crying after falling down and ended up having a panic attack.

I have tried repeated Epley manuvers, variations of the manuver, and nothing is working at all anymore.  Remember that awful Super Mario Brothers movie?  That’s how I feel.  Like I’m devolving into a shambling wreck, but without all the special effects.

Back to the doctor on Monday.

Vertigo

During the cake show I started having problems with my balance.  There had been occasional dizzy spells during the previous month, but it was getting worse.  This week it got to the point I was having trouble with stairs and driving (which isn’t good because we pick up my new car next week).

I finally caved in and went into the regional clinic to find out what was going on.  Turns out it’s a combination of several things:  benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) and an ear infection, which is mostly in the same ear where the BPPV is centered. They also had me schedule a blood draw on Thursday to make sure there weren’t any issues with my thyroid as well (I’ll meet with the doctor next Thursday).

If you don’t know what BPPV is–and I certainly hadn’t heard of it–NPR has an excellent explanation and graphic (even though they refer to them as ‘ear rocks’).

(Click here for the link)

Luckily there is a treatment called the Epley maneuver that is usually successful.  Locating a version of this that works was a bit tricky though.  There are some versions that say to do each move for 30 seconds and do not repeat, others that spend 5 minutes on each move and repeat three times, and a few that state you should only do it under a doctor’s supervision (I was told to go home and repeat as often as necessary).  I tried them all until I found one that seemed to work for me last night, but for some reason it got worse again today after I got to work.  Did a little reading and discovered the steroid they gave me for the ear infection also causes dizziness, which explains why it’s always worse after taking it.  Oh well, only two more days of the steroid anyway.

So that’s it.  I’m not going nuts like I thought I was, and there’s no mysterious brain tumor (yes, I was actually worried about that).  In fact, knowing that it’s treatable makes a huge difference in my attitude.  Now I just need to get the concentration problem sorted out.

The funny thing is that now I can tell people I have rocks in my head.