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History of ear problems and general health issues
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History of ear problems and general health issues

This is going to be quite a long post, because I feel it's best to detail about every past/present medical issue I've had, in hopes that mentioning every and any symptom I've had will help identify what's wrong with me. So.
I am a 21 year old female, and in the past few years I've had increasingly more noticable symptoms of general lightheadedness, ringing in my ears, trouble hearing, and constant tiredness. In the last year or so alone, I've had a few episodes where out of nowhere I became extremely nauseous to the point of throwing up, dizzy, whole body numbing, heart racing, disoriented...these episodes don't seem to last that long, the worst probably a day or a little less.
Everytime this happens my general perception of things around me is hard to perceive, because I feel so disoriented and my ears feel so full and clogged and there is often ringing in my ears as well, and it feels like I'm having a panic attack, although I don't THINK I've ever had one. But everything just become so confusing that I don't know what I'm doing and I can't concentrate and the dizzyness/numbness/nausea is so bad I can't even stand.
The few times this has happened I ended up at the doctor's/emergency room. I do think the first time it happened I may have had the flu/dehydration or something because I had CONSTANT throwing up along with all of the above symptoms, but the other times I didn't have constant, if any throwing up.
The last time this happened, back in September, they did blood work, and everything was generally okay, so they sent me to a ENT specialist. Now, here's something interesting. My mother was diagnosed with Meniere's disease about 8-10 years ago, and she tells me that when she was younger, she went through a similar thing as I am: symptoms that couldn't be explained, the doctors weren't able to find anything out. It took them 20+ years to actually diagnose her with Meniere's.
But, because of my knowledge of Meniere's from her having it, I thought what was going on with me sounded quite similar. Not exactly the same, but it sounded like an explanation, so of course I mentioned this to the ENT doctor. He said it was very likely that I could have Meniere's, but he wanted to send me to a ENT specialist that specifically dealt with Meniere's.
Well, I saw that doctor today, and he doesn't think I have it. So now I am back at square one. As soon as he asked me if, when I have these "episodes," if the room feels like it's spinning, I told him no, not really, and that seemed to decide it for him that I don't have it. He really didn't even ask anything else, pretty much just sent me on my way. Although, this was a bit strange: his assistant looked in my ears, and told me there was something in my ear. He ended up pulling out a really long hair from my cat, which somehow got really deep in my ear. I did notice my hearing improved after he took it out but I can't imagine all of these problems being from a single cat hair.

Now, as far as in my past medical history, I had tubes in my ears two times when I was younger. I had a history of bad ear infections when I was little, and I was constantly sick as a child. When I was about 12 or so, I developed migraines, specifically migraines brought on by eating anything with caffeine in it/chocolate. I don't know if migraines can be brought on by emotional distress, but around the same time is when I was also diagnosed with depression, and I was put on Prozac, and am still on it to this day. The migraines have never gone away though, but they only seem to happen when I eat caffeine/chocolate. This might seem completely unrelated to my earlier mentioned symptoms, but I did notice the last time I had one of those episodes, I had ate chocolate/salty food/not had much sleep. All things that seem to cause a Meniere's attack.

Here's what the real kicker seems to be: lack of sleep. Now, I realize that of course a lack of sleep is not healthy, but the majority of people I know suffer from lack of sleep, and do NOT have health issues like I do. Almost every single time I've had one of those attacks, I had had very little sleep the night before.
I just don't think not sleeping enough should be cause enough to bring on something as dramatic as the episodes I've had. As far as why I have such a lack of sleeping: I simply have sleeping problems, and have since I was around 12, about the same time I was diagnosed with depression. No matter how much rest I get I still always feel tired. I cannot go to sleep without taking some sort of over the counter sleep aid, and even then I am almost guaranteed to wake up in the middle of the night and then have a hard time going back to sleep, if I even can.

I feel like I left out something vital here...oh, a few things I forgot to mention: the ENT that I saw a month ago put me on a water pill to see if that helped, and it didn't at all. All of my hearing tests were normal, yet in everyday conversation I have a really hard time hearing people, something people around me notice alot as well. Which I don't understand: if I can't hear people why are my hearing tests okay?
A few years ago I was tested for my thyroid, because at the time that's what the doctor's thought it might be, and they did discover a very tiny lump on my throat but never thought it cause for concern. I even went back a year later to get it checked on again and they weren't concerned, so I never dug any deeper.

I mentioned briefly about my heart racing during these episodes. That is another issue I've had since I was little. It's quite a scary sensation, where my heart feels like it's beating fast enough to burst out of my chest.

So, could this all be something as simple as panic attacks? If so, I don't understand what brings them on; lack of sleep alone can't do that. And if it's panic attacks, how to explain the ringing in my ears, the hearing trouble, etc? Could it be Meniere's and the doctors just think it's too early to call it that? Or could it be something completely different?

I am just so tired of having spent the last 10+ years of my life getting blood tests done, and everything being normal, and not being able to pinpoint what is wrong with me. I need answers now, because the not knowing alone is almost worse than the illness.
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152264_tn?1280358257
I would bet anything that your attacks are actually migraines.

What most people--and many doctors--don't realize is that you can have migraines WITHOUT headache. Dizziness can be the primary symptom or even the only symptom. It does not have to be spinning dizziness to be migraine. Your symptoms, including the nausea and disorientation, just sound classic.

Without hearing loss, true Meniere's disease is unlikely. Otherwise it is difficult to distinguish migraine from Meniere's; the symptoms and triggers can have a lot of overlap.

There are many kinds of migraine triggers. You have identified your food triggers. Did you know that sleep disruption (too little or too much sleep) is a MAJOR migraine trigger for many people?

The panic-attack feeling could perhaps be explained by the fact that the vestibular (balance) system is closely tied in with the sympathetic nervous system (the fight-or-flight response). Dizziness causes anxiety because that's just the way our brains are wired. (Anxiety by itself can also cause dizziness, but it doesn't sound like that's the primary cause of your dizziness.)

Migraine can definitely affect the inner ear. I'm not sure exactly how it works but it's probably related to blood-flow changes, I think. A large percentage of migraineurs experience dizziness to some extent.

See a neurologist who specializes in migraine! Tell him/her about your migraines and their triggers. Recognize that your attacks may be "simply" migraines, find a neurologist who understands this (the best kind is an oto-neurologist, one who specializes in dizziness) and will work with you to find things to help--lifestyle/diet changes and/or medications. There are lots of migraine-preventive medications to try. Your life could change by finding the right one.

If your mother did not have actual hearing loss, I'm betting she had migraines, too. They are HIGHLY hereditary.

Read this page, and otherwise you can google "migraine-associated vertigo" or "migraine-associated dizziness".

http://www.dizziness-and-balance.com/disorders/central/migraine/mav.html

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Avatar_f_tn
Well, my mom has definetely had hearing loss, and when she has these "attacks" I know she says she also has the "spinning room" sensation, and her balance is extremely bad, she can't deal with heights without feeling a vertigo sensation, etc, so it almost goes without saying that she does have Meniere's, especially since she saw a specialist some years ago and he diagnosed her with it.

I have fairly bad balance myself, but I don't have any issues with heights or like I said, the spinning room sensation, so I guess because of these two things Meniere's is ruled out...

Now, my dad DOES actually get migraines, pretty bad ones too but not very often.

I just find it quite strange that it's a possibility to be just migraines, without an actual headache. Especially that a migraine could cause all of those problems, even the ear problems.

Otherwise, I think you could be right, since I already KNEW that I do get migraines from chocolate/caffeine. Is it fairly common for people to have migraines that are that bad, that can cause that many problems?
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152264_tn?1280358257
Yes, migraines can be pretty bad and cause a lot of weird symptoms.

Re your mom: Many things can cause a "spinning room" sensation, also balance problems and difficulty with heights. I'm not saying your mom doesn't have Meniere's, only that these things are NOT specific to Meniere's. Hopefully the specialist that diagnosed your mom knew his/her stuff and was a specialist in specifically inner-ear disorders.

Yes, it DOES seem strange that migraines can cause so much weird stuff without including a headache, and when you say "migraine" everyone thinks "headache," even most doctors, but actually migraine is complicated chain of events involving the circulatory (blood-flow) and nervous system and the brainstem. It can cause headache, spinning or non-spinning dizziness, temporary blindness, temporary hearing loss, temporary paralysis of a limb or side, ringing in the ears, sensitivity to light and sound, nausea and vomiting, various visual distortions--flashing lights or tunnel vision, a sense that things are tilted, too big or too small, etc. Of course not everyone gets all these symptoms; a person may get just one of them or may get several.

Also, migraine can change over the course of your life. They tend to crop up during periods of hormonal change (puberty, menopause, before your period). For example, I got headaches (no other symptoms) in my teens but never realized these were migraines. I started having dizzy spells after I had kids. At age 42 I suddenly got a visual migraine (visual distortion lasting about half an hour) and that's how I knew I was a migraineur! I had three of those and no more. But I've had a lot of trouble with dizziness, "fog," and "spells" when I feel worse for a couple of hours or so. Also I had a time when I'd get very nauseated out of the blue for an hour or so. I'm sure all these were (small) migraine attacks.

You NEED to get your sleep schedule under control. Start with a neurologist specializing in migraines/headache. Ask your primary doc to refer you. You might also ask the neurologist whether you should get a sleep study to see why you're not sleeping and what can be done about it. Migraines are famous for occurring on weekend mornings, when people sleep in--even a slight disruption in a person's sleep schedule can trigger a migraine (chocolate and caffeine are only two of many food triggers--do some research on the Internet).

Even if your hearing is normal, it is not uncommon to have trouble understanding speech. I'm not sure why this is. Could be related to your migraine troubles, sleep disruption, etc. The brain just doesn't function well when sleep-deprived.

Good luck and please take my advice to see a neurologist to deal with your migraines and sleep problems. My guess is that ENTs aren't going to be much help to you; they know little about migraine, they just want to rule out causes that THEY can do something about. Migraine is a NEUROLOGY issue, even though it CAN and frequently DOES affect the ear and cause dizziness with all its associated problems (such as anxiety/panic).

When talking with doctors (your primary, any specialist), make clear to them how these problems are affecting your life. Let them know to what extent (if any) it is disrupting your work life, your family life, etc., how often the attacks occur, how long you are out of commission with an attack, etc. Also let them know about your fatigue. You may be advised to try lifestyle changes and/or medication. I bet when you find the right medication and/or get your sleep in better shape, you will feel a LOT better.
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