BPPV: The Roller Coaster Ride From Hell

You are lying peacefully on your bed. You turn your head quickly to one side and suddenly the room starts spinning violently. Shocked, you close your eyes and feel the intense need to vomit. Then a few seconds later, as suddenly as it started, the spinning comes to an end. Congratulations, you are one of the 2-3% of the population who experience BPPV or Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo.

BPPV? Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo.? What does that mean?
Benign: Not harmful
Paroxysmal: A sudden attack
Positional: Relating to your position, such as sitting, standing, lying, etc
Vertigo: Dizziness, spinning, loss of balance

About a year ago, I was vacationing on a Greek Island. I was lying in bed and turned my head and thought my world had come to an end. The room spun so violently, I could only freeze in place and wait for it to end. I was scared, and confused. I was in Greece! On a remote Island! I had no idea what to do. Thoughts of brain tumors or deadly viral infections raced through my mind.

I did a Google search and fortunately, information about BPPV came up. I read that BPPV was caused by crystals venturing into the wrong place in the inner ear. And I learned that a simple maneuver was enough to put them back in their place. That somehow comforted me. I decided to stop reading further do my best to enjoy my holiday and turn my head as little as possible until I was back home.

When I returned, I made an appointment with an ENT. I told him about my symptoms and that I suspected that I had BPPV. He said, “I agree with you. You probably do have BPPV. However, I am not the person to help you, I don't have enough experience with it. But my colleague trained for a year in a vestibular clinic. I recommend that you visit her.”. I am grateful that he advised me to do this, rather than attempting to treat me himself. In fact, BPPV is not simple to diagnose or treat and only experienced professionals should attempt to do this. Each ear has 3 semicircular canals, so there are 6 of them. In order to treat BPPV you have to first determine which of the 6 semicircular canals are effected. Then you have to know which maneuver is most appropriate: Epley, Semont, Foster or Brandt-Daroff and how to apply it for the semicircular where your stone resides.

The next day, I visited the BPPV expert and within a few minutes, she confirmed my BPPV by observing a nystagmus or “Eye Twitch” when I turned my head. She performed the Epley maneuver with me. Then she sent me home with a computer print out of how to do the maneuver most appropriate for me. That evening, I carefully tried to set off my vertigo and discovered, to my delight and relief, that it was gone. I was cured!

But many people do not have it so easy. BPPV does not always go away so easily. And when it does, it can suddenly return. BPPV often causes depression and anxiety. A type of PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder can plague those who have experienced BPPV. BPPV is so debilitating that even standing or walking can be difficult. And the spinning is so violent that nausea or vomiting is very common. Some people are forced to stay in bed for days. The fear and anxiety that comes with BPPV is so traumatic that the memory will never completely leave.

Why did it happen to me? I suspect mine was related to the fact that I had just flown in an airplane and had experienced the usual change in ear pressure that comes during take off and landing. I had had a slight cold and I suspect that the air pressure blew the crystal into a place it was not supposed to be. But this is only a guess. No one really knows what causes BPPV.

What do you do if you suspect you have BPPV? Try to find a “Balance Center” in your nearest metropolitan area or a specialist experienced with Vestibular balance disorders. Not all “specialists” have experience with BPPV. Only attempt. the maneuvers (such as Epley) at home by yourself if you have no other options. Such as being stuck on a Greek Island.