Just a little over 12 weeks have gone by since an “ear infection” hit me and took over my life. Who would have thought that a simple (presumably) virus (labyrinthitis) could turn my world upside down so much? As I seek further answers and hope for recovery, I’m learning more and more about the inner ear and all of the functions it serves in your body. An external ear infection (“swimmers ear”) can be treated quickly with ear drops. A middle ear infection (my original diagnosis) can usually be treated with antibiotics. But an inner ear infection can wreak havoc on your mind and body and can seriously hamper your quality of life.
The inner ear takes the sound that channels through your outer ear, communicates with the brain through the hearing nerve, and this results in our interpretation of sound. So one of the many functions this part of your body serves, is hearing. However, your inner ear is also largely responsible for balance–sending numerous messages to your brain about head position and spatial orientation. Any damage done to this part of the body can cause error messages to be sent to the brain, and if these error messages conflict with what the other senses are saying, it can exhaust the brain.
For the first few weeks of this (since it happened, around October 4th, 2013), I had a very hard time articulating my symptoms. After being told initially that I had a middle ear infection, I couldn’t believe how exhausted I was, and how little hearing I had in my left ear. I tried patiently to wait for my “ear to pop” as the doctor instructed. At the end of October, we tried to take our newborn daughter to a pumpkin parade down the street, and as soon as I was in the crowd of people, I felt overwhelming anxiety, disorientation, and an urgent need to leave and go home. Again, I assumed that this was just due to the missing sound information, because “my ear hadn’t drained.” But I didn’t know why I felt so overwhelmed. Grocery store trips have been “fuzzy, foggy, uncomfortable, and frustrating.” But again, I could not properly articulate what the real issue was. For the few times that I’ve put myself in these environments, my tendency was just to rush out as fast as I could and get home.
I finally figured it out, near the holiday season, where we need to make those inevitable trips to the mall or Costco: My distance vision is totally blurred. The busier the environment, the harder it is for my brain to process things, and busy environments like malls result in an overwhelming headache, anxiety, frustration, awareness of the missing sound, and blurry vision. When I mentioned this to an on-call doctor I saw at our family physician’s office in early December, he said to “go get my eyes checked.” I am not convinced this is the issue when all these symptoms started at the same time. (I am patiently waiting for our new family doctor to start in January–I see her next week, and I hope she has some better answers for me).
However, in the midst of doctors shutting down for the holidays, a crazy schedule, a new baby’s first Christmas, and lots of family time, I was introduced to discipline I had never heard of, and a doctor who gave me hope: Chiropractic Neurology at the office of Dr. Ian Horseman in Peterborough, ON. How did I find out about this you ask? Well my sister has dealt with some very difficult yet undiagnosed health issues over the past few years, and she found Dr. Ian through many years of trying to regain her quality of life from issues like vertigo, disorientation, hearing loss, tinnitus, etc. She had all the medical and neurological tests done known to man, which, with the exception of her hearing, all showed “normal.” Always the researcher and determined to get better, my sister ended up having her first visit with Dr. Ian in summer of 2013, and she had mentioned to the family that her quality of life has increased significantly since then. So I called my sister and asked if I could go with her to the next visit, which is just over a 90 minute drive from where we live. Truth be told, I really was not sure how a chiropractor would be able to help me, but I know my sister, and if Dr. Ian helped her that much, it was definitely worth trying.
We went to visit Dr. Ian I filled out about 6 pages worth of information–at least half of which pertained to neurological symptoms, and asked questions about hearing loss, emotions, headaches, anxiety, etc. The fact that I had not been asked these questions before, was a good sign. What has happened to me is so much more significant than just hearing loss. Within the first 5 minutes of meeting me, Dr. Ian observed that my head was slightly tilted to the left, and my left eye was elevated, which he said means that my left ear is sending a pathological signal to my brain that my head is tilted, when it is not. This is very likely the reason why I’ve felt so “fuzzy” and that my distance vision has been blurred. My ear is interpreting one signal, and the information from my eyes does not match that signal, thus resulting in a confused brain. After a series of neurological tests, Dr. Ian assessed the functioning of my right and left brain, and determined that I’m left-brain dominant, but due to the faulty signals of the left (damaged) ear, we need to re-train the left brain to receive the proper information again. I had some chiropractic adjustments that day which were specific to treating the brain issues, and was given a series of exercises to do at home, to help retrain the brain. It was interesting to have recommendations given to me such as using scent near my nostrils to ease anxiety, and to rub peppermint foot lotion on my feet to soothe the nerves. I much prefer this approach over medicating myself. Dr. Ian and his team also asked me to test my saliva and urine, to determine acidity (I was very acidic), and upon my next visit, I was given a series of recommendations to reduce the acidity in my body to help it heal. Upon leaving Dr. Ian’s office, I literally cried my first tears of joy in about 3 months–he was the first doctor who didn’t look at me like I had 4 heads when I tried to articulate what my symptoms were, and the first doctor to give me any sort of hope that my quality of life would improve again.
So what about my other complaints? The tinnitus (which has now developed in my right “good” ear, in a different pitch, for some mystery reason–I am hoping it’s related to compensation, neck, or jaw tension)….would I ever be able to sleep again? Will the hearing in my left ear return? Will I be able to go to a shopping mall or similar busy environment again without leaving frustrated and in tears? As opposed to other doctors who were afraid of making any promises, Dr. Ian felt that most of my hearing should at least mostly return, and that the tinnitus would get quieter. It may take 3 – 6 months, but this was the first ray of hope I heard in a long time. The good news: near the third week in December, I had another hearing test, and it showed improvement. Although slow progress, it is a step in a positive direction finally.
Everything else is progressing slowly, and right now there are more bad days than good, but once every week or so, I have a “good” day that gives me hope. Walking the dog doesn’t seem so blurry, and some days I wake up and my vision has improved significantly. Other days, my distance vision is terrible and I just need to be patient and hope that it gets better the following day. I cry a lot since it’s an overwhelming, frustrating experience, but I do hope this all goes away. Every night when I go to bed, I pray that I can sleep and that the ringing in my ears will quiet. Sleep is still a challenge that I’m trying to conquer, but I’ve had 2 nights in a row of decent sleep, so it’s a start.
For those interested in Dr. Ian’s background and practice, please see the links below:
Interestingly enough, my sister mentioned that Ted Carrick and this little-known field of Chiropractic Neurology helped Sidney Crosby after his concussion.
Thanks for reading, and if anyone has a similar story, I would love to hear it.