Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hearing out of balance

One of my hidden disabilities is vertigo--not fear of heights, but a balance disorder. I am subject to occasional bouts of dizziness and poor balance. I first noticed them after a cruise trip to Mexico; my "sea legs" didn't go away for months after we got back. Over ten years later I suffered a serious case of vertigo that lasted about six months, waking in the night with the room spinning around me, unable to walk without weaving from side to side and bumping into chairs and walls, and constantly nauseated. After a clean exam (including MRI, after which I went around declaring I was brain tumor free), a neurologist finally performed an outpatient procedure that cleared up most of the symptoms. They return in milder form whenever I have a head cold (congestion in my ears) or am overtired for more than a couple of weeks.

Today's New York Times has an article discussing the new importance of the vestibular system and its associated disorders. Here's my extended seasickness:

One such syndrome is mal de debarquement, in which people who have spent time aboard a ship, plane or other moving vehicle still feel that they are rocking, dipping and swaying long after they’ve returned to solid ground.

The syndrome has become more prominent given the popularity of cruiseliner vacations, and though most episodes are mild and short-lived, severe cases can last months to years and be accompanied by what sufferers call a brain fog, a sense of cognitive slowing so debilitating that they may end up with careers, relationships, lives in ruin.

And here's what it feels like when I have a return of the mild version of vertigo:

If the brain couldn’t distinguish between movements of the viewer and movements of the view, if every time you turned around or walked across the room the scenery appeared to smear or the walls to lurch your way, you soon might cease to move at all, uncertain of external threats, unaided by any internal compass marked You.


Stef said...

I sometimes have positional vertigo, which goes away within seconds. I can't imagine having it constantly. I hope they can figure out a way to clear it up for you.

Kai Jones said...

Thanks. It goes away pretty quickly once I'm over a cold, or get enough sleep. If I ever have the really bad kind again, I'll know to go straight back to the neurologist for the treatment. It does entail staying upright for 24 hours afterward, but it worked.