Once in a while I wake up in the morning and I know something is not right. My tinnitus is wailing, my head is woozy and the room is spinning. It’s going to be one of those days. Whenever this occurs (probably 2 or 3 times a year) I wonder if I have a form of Meniere’s disease. Vertigo is one of its primary symptoms. My doctors tell me “no” since my hearing loss does not fluctuate during these episodes, but I wonder. The good news is that my bouts are few and far between. Fingers crossed that it stays that way.
According to WebMD, vertigo is the sensation of spinning when you are still. You might feel like you are moving or that the room is circling around you. Neither is very pleasant. It reminds me of tinnitus, where you perceive a sound that does not exist. For me, the two often occur together.
My most recent bout occurred a few weeks ago. I had a busy day scheduled and didn’t have time for dizziness, so I ignored it and went to my morning yoga class as planned. Probably not the best idea. The class started fine, but after the first back bend, things took a turn for the worse. My head, which already felt swollen with sloshing liquid, became heavier and more unbalanced. It was as if all the fluid had shifted to one side, bringing my center of gravity along with it. I toppled over. Twice. Not my finest yoga moments.
Falling over in yoga may be an extreme example, but the unbalanced feeling is familiar to me. It often happens when I have a head cold, or ascend or descend elevation frequently in a short period of time. This can happen on airplane trips or even in the car driving up to higher elevation or back down again. Until my ears “pop” or acclimate to the different air pressure at the new altitude, I walk around in a fog — feeling deafer than normal, disoriented and dizzy. This can sometimes take several hours to correct itself.
When I am on an airplane, I use a couple of tricks to help relieve the pressure in my ears. I wonder if these would have helped with my latest bout of vertigo. The feeling of fullness and unsteadiness is similar, although less extreme. I will give them a try next time.
1. Swallowing: Drinking water or chewing gum during ascent and descent forces you to swallow, helping to unblock the Eustachian tube and stabilize the pressure in your ears. Munching on a light snack can also work.
2. Yawning: Opening your mouth as wide as possible for a fake yawn (often this can lead to real ones for me and also for my seat mates!) can help for the same reasons as swallowing.
3. Blowing: If neither of the first two methods work, I sometimes try blowing out my ears. I breathe in, pinch my nose tightly, close my mouth and try to force the air out of my nostrils. Since the nostrils are blocked by my pinching, this causes my ears to “pop.” I always start very gently and build up slowly to avoid overdoing it and damaging my ears. I know it has worked when I hear a squeal or popping sound.
For more suggestions on how to handle air travel with hearing loss visit Ears and Altitude on the American Academy of Otolaryngology website.
Readers, do you ever experience vertigo? What are your tips?