Week 1 – Attack of the Labyrinthitus

On Fri Feb 13th 2015, exactly 3 months ago, I was busy finishing off things at work and eagerly looking forward to spending Valentines weekend with my boyfriend. I was feeling a bit tired and run down and so we had decided to try and arrange a last minute spa getaway as a relaxing and romantic treat. I was looking forward to finishing work, packing my bags and driving away for the weekend. My left ear had been feeling a bit funny since the day before and I was slightly concerned about swimming with it but wasn’t paying much attention to it.

I left the office to meet a friend for lunch and BOOM!! – suddenly something was seriously wrong with me. The cafe was spinning and rocking and I felt like I was going to fall over and throw up. I felt like I’d been given some super-dodgy class-A’s. I made my swift apologies, grabbed my things from the office and tried to get myself home as fast as I could. The walk home was a whole new experience as the ground seemed to be shifting and everything was looking strangely surreal. I didn’t have a clue what was happening to me.

I got myself home, climbed straight into bed and lay motionless because the slightest movement made me unbelievably sick and dizzy. I slept a bit and then got straight onto Dr Google to find out what was happening to me. It didn’t take long to suss out that this was classic Labyrinthitus.

Labyrinthitus, is a catch-all name used to describe what happens when there is damage or inflammation to the inner ear. The damage can be caused by a virus (most commonly), bacteria (more rarely), chemicals/medication or be part of wider systemic issues in the body. The inner ear contain the vestibular (balance) and audio (hearing) nerves and so any issues here can produce acute symptoms of vertigo, nausea/vomiting, visual changes, hearing changes and tinnitus. If there are no effects to the hearing then its generally referred to as Vestibular Neuritis instead.

For the next 4-5 days, any time I needed to move I was overwhelmed by such extreme vertigo and nausea that I would literally end up holding onto the floor, crying hysterically and begging for it to stop. I can only describe it as being spun so much, all the time, that all your insides want to come up and out. My boyfriend had come over straight away to look after me and we spent our Valentines weekend adjusting to my new inability to move or function. He fed me, held me and shared the trauma of having to carry me to the loo and listen to me cry in my dizzy-nausea-agony. It was a horrid experience but I don’t know what I would have done without him.

A few days later my GP visited and confirmed I had Labyrinthitus. He told me to rest and that it would pass in a week. He prescribed me Stemitil to reduce the dizziness and he left me to recover, still laying horizontal and not moving my head unless absolutely essential.

I chose not to take the Stemitil because I’m cautious about taking medication, but also because I’d seen from the research that it can hinder the brains ability to re-calibrate after vestibular nerve damage.

Any damage or impact to the vestibular nerve on one side, causes it to fire neurons at a different rate to the other side. Since the brain then gets uneven signals from each side of the head, it interprets the body to be in a spinning motion, and the rest of the body responds. Now in many cases (especially for those whose vertigo has lasted longer than a few weeks), this nerve damage is permanent. But eventually what happens is that the brain learns to re-adjust and ‘compensate’ for the faulty signals, and the person will regain a sense of balance again.

Stemetil works by suppressing the vestibular system which is all very well in the acute stages but not ideal if you want to recover from your dizziness. Whilst GP’s and even some Ear Nose and Throat specialists (ENT’s) will tell you to keep taking the tablets, the evidence is that they can hinder compensation and so should only be taken in the acute stages 1-2 weeks. Any well informed specialist should know this. Anyway, I chose to brave it (suffer) and go o’natural, not taking them at all to ensure that nothing got in the way of my recovery.

If you are going through Labyrinthitus now, I feel for you. Its a terrible thing to experience. All I can tell you is that the worst of it WILL pass in a few days and many people get back to normal in as fast as one week. Stay as still as you can, rest and make sure you have someone you feel close to, to help you. People will assume an ear infection is an ear-ache so do explain the difference so they understand and can support you appropriately. Take the anti-dizzy pills your GP gives you, but not for longer than 1-2 weeks.

OR..There is another option and this is what I would do if I knew then what I know now. That is – call an ambulance or get yourself to A&E. The chances are you feel much too sick to do this. The journey and the wait may be agony. And there is a chance they just send you home and you will hate me for telling you to do this. But there is also a very good chance that if you go to A&E now, in your state, you will get the tests done that may otherwise take months.

If I hadn’t spent so long waiting for tests I may have got the help I needed to save my hearing and to get VRT quicker.