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Avatar universal

feeling faint while driving

I have had some scary symptoms while driving that have begun within the past 3 years.  I often get dizzy feeling, like I'm going to faint, my vision seems to narrow in, I get pressure in my head, my hands get cold and clamy, it's almost like I'm losing consciousness and have to constantly refocus.  When the car stops, the symptoms seems to alleviate.  Sometimes when I stop the car, it looks as though I'm still moving.  Sometimes this happens when I'm tired, but sometimes not.  Also, it seems to get worse the faster I drive.  It's so bad that I can't drive on long road trips for fear of passing out.  Interestingly, it doesn't happen when I'm a passenger, which my doctor says rules out motion sickness.  I've only been on an airplane one time, but it happened then as well, just in a milder way.  My doctor says I am having anxiety attacks, but I don't feel anxious at all until it begins.  I have BPV and Meneires (diagnosed about 10 years ago) and my question is, could it be the Meneires triggering these sensations, thus causing anxiety, or could it be anxiety triggering the Meneires, which triggers these symptoms?  Or is it the BPV, all of the above, none of the above?  Help!!??
42 Responses
147426 tn?1317269232
You pose some interesting questions with some remarkable insight.  What you describe sounds like you are having classic anxiety, if not panic, attacks.  All of your symptoms point in that direction.  My opinion is that your vestibular disorders cause the attacks and not primary anxiety.  

I think that the trigger might be be speed or possibly acceleration.  This points to the vestibular system where you have 2 documented disorders.  Of the two I think BPV  (Benign Paroxysmal Vertigo) is the most likely culprit.  I don't think it would be BPV itself (which felt to be loose otoliths in the semi-circular canals), but possibly related to the adjacent organs which sense acceleration and deceleration.  Often in BBPV there is more than one site with the inner ear affected.  Was your BPV adequately treated?  If so, has it ever returned?  Is it still a problem?

Meniere's on the other hand, being overload of fluid within the inner ear, typically responds more to pressure.  Actually that is an oversimplification.  Established Menier's can flair up with just about any kind of provocation:  Changes in altitude (flying, driving over a pass) changes in barometric pressure (significant weather shifts) but also stress, fatigue, infections, head congestion and diet.

In any case you have suffered some significant insults to the inner ear which will likely plague you to one extent or another for life.  The episodes that you experience in the car may stem from the stimulation of the damaged vestibular system.  

As I understand them, anxiety attacks, after the initial one(s) don't come from you getting anxious or feeling fearful or stressed.  In the beginning a person suffers a stressful event.  Often it may be a medical illness with frightening symptoms.  There are few symptoms as terrifying as the sudden paroxysm of BPV - feeling like the world is whirling aobut you or, in my case that you are falling at 100 mph - and frequently causing you to fall and lose control.  They may not last long, but the effects of suffering them do.  Also terrifying is a severe Meniere's attack with the long (sometimes hours) of world whirling, nausea, vomiting, and fear that the first attack will kill you.  The anxiety or panic suffered initally is totally appropriate and understandable.  That anxiety is produced by the body's defense "fight or flight" response.  This response is produced by neurotransmitters and their friends.

Many experts in anxiety believe that the cascade of neuro-chemicals which cause panic/anxiety attacks later gets repeated at the very "suggestion" that the event might occur again.  By this I mean that when the body perceives the possible beginning again of that awful event (even well below the conscious level) the neurochemicals are released, which then cause the symptoms of anxiety.

So as you are driving along, the acceleration of driving, with it's inevitable decelerations - slows and stops as you maneuver traffic, intersections, passing cars, differing speed limits - may stimulate your damaged vestibular system even if mildly.  Your body "fearing" an impending attack of BPV or a Menier's attack responds as if it was already happening.  You feel anxious, light-headed, maybe terrified, your heart starts pounding and you remember that this happened the last time you tried to take a trip.  That would explain why you don't start out anxious.  Somewhere in a longer drive the vestibular system gets stimulated enough and you suffer the consequences.

It would seem that if you could stop the cascade of events (take a preventative) for the anxiety, you would probably be able to take your long drives which you have curtailed.  From personal experience I know that the vestibular symptoms aren't easily suppressed.  BPPV, coupled with a traumatic hole in my inner ear, and chronic labyrinthitis caused me to lose my career as a pediatrician and I remain disabled by chronic vertigo now, 6 years later.  For me even a short drive to the grocery store stimulates my dizziness to the point of often needing sedation.  I rarely leave the house anymore.  

As a aside, my best friend has horribly severe Menier's. She finds that driving long distances (not so much in town) calms her symptoms and relaxes her, though she does has a strong fear of suffering a bad attack away from home.

I suspect, having already gotten the two diagnoses you have a good physician to treat them.  If not, you can find a neuro-otologist (vestibular specialist) by going to the Vestibular Association of America website (VEDA).  They publish a list of specialists and clinics.

I could be wrong here, but I know vertigo well.  I also know that a great number of people with anxiety attacks know that they ARE NOT in danger, but something triggers the reaction anyway.  It's one of the great misunderstandings that people have about these attacks.  They are not set off by a persons 's fears, but by a semi-automatic response of the body.

As is often the case, I have gone on and on.  My thinking is getting foggy trying to focus on the screen  (I have a lot of eye-jerking from the vertigo), so blessedly I'll be quiet now.  I hope this epic discourse holds some help for you.  If you want to ask any questions about what I was trying to explain, please ask.  At night I'm not always very clear.

Good luck, Quix
Avatar universal
Wow, thanks so much for the comment.  What you say makes total sense, it's just being able to "get over it" (the anxiety) when I'm driving.  I know I need to be well rested, which helps the balance issues, before I drive long trips.  But, it doesn't take long for me to get tired.  My eyes get tired easily and want to shut by themselves, like I'm losing consciousness.  I'm sorry to hear that you had to leave your job because of this.  At one point I thought, "How can I work like this?--I'm a teacher".  But, the BPV comes and goes and I take Meclizine (which has it's own side effects) when it flares.  I think it's the Meneires that brings me the most trouble.  It's so constant.  I try to accommodate my diet-decrease salt, caffeine, etc...  but none-the-less, it's there.  I have to say, through prayer I have conquered quite a bit of all of this.  Without my faith in Jesus, I'm not sure I'd make it through.  Well, thanks again for the info and maybe we'll talk again soon.
Take care!
147426 tn?1317269232
Can'tr do it tonight.  I did a couple answers on my way to you and have had it.  Can't focus and I hurt!  I have some very definite things to say.  Please stay tuned!!  Quix
147426 tn?1317269232
BPV is TOTALLY treatable.  Why don't we talk a little and see if we can sort it out?  Also I wrote an epic discourse on vertigo on 5/21 called "Information on Vertigo."  If you want, read it and post there and we can talk about your problems with driving.

Avatar universal
Hello. I found particular interest in these posts as they are exactly what I am experiencing. Can you tell me, where can I find your epic discourse on vertigo, "Information on Vertigo"? Thank you!
Avatar universal
Greetings, There is also another known disorder called, "vertical heterophoria syndrome". Type that into a google search. The site in Birmingham MI is the one that helped me. Check out the testimonials and symptoms. The ones about driving are what interested me. There is no surgery and no meds. After going to all sorts of specialists, including MRI, CT scan, ENT, ENG and countless blood tests, all negative, it was the only thing that worked. Unfortunately. There are only three specialists in the USA. One in California, Texas and Michigan. The one in Michigan was the only doctor that helped. It was the driving episodes that bothered me most. Especially stopping and everything else kept moving. A lot of you mention your eyes get tired and you have trouble focusing. That is because it "is" your eyes that are the problem. Not any optometrist can diagnose the "syndrome", as mine said I was fine. He was wrong. Good Luck. I have nothing to do with th Birmingham site, just trying to help as I was helped and oh yeah, the anxiety stopped immediately afterwards, so did the headaches.

598974 tn?1221679062
For the 5th time in the last year I went on a long road trip and it was not even that long!! I had to pull over like 5 times within a hour and a half ! I kept feeling like passing out and get a wierd vision feeling but I can still see everything clearly. It just seems like the road is closing in on me or something. I have never had any problems driving or with my vision ever before.  I dont understand what is going on. But I cant drive long distances anymore in fear I will get in an accident with my kids in the car.  I am 26 and as far as I know have no vision problems and dont understand why all the sudden I am having problems driving long distances? I dont ever have this problem while driving in town?  Please help.  
Avatar universal
i/m also feeling fain on long driveing, or as a passenger, this happens at movies as well or theatre I may nod off for 10 -15 min, or at a long speech, any one have ideas

Avatar universal
Hello fellow anxious dizzy drivers - I may have found a simple and free solution to our problems - BREATH - please read on: I'm a 30 year old male from New Zealand and have had pretty much all the symptoms of above posts, slowly getting worse over the past 6 years since I developed OOS and also put my lower back out when I was 24 (which was basically a result of terrible posture, weak core strength and a high pressure job with a lot of time spent at a badly structured computer station).

I was anxious about the symptoms, but they only became a debilitating problem for me at the end of 2009 when I had a panic attack while driving at high speed on the motorway. I was very stressed at the the time as I was intensively working on a feature film script and also about to get married!

I found this forum 3 or four months ago and began occupational rehabilitation therapy after reading the post about somatoform syndrome. This has been a big help with relieving the neck pain and building better postural strength so that I can actually sit in a healthy position while driving i.e. not slumped forward with my neck tilted and pinched at the back - basically retraining my body so as to get rid of all the old bad muscle memory.

But my big break through was when I went to a new GP recently for a check up. I had it in my head that I might have an inner ear infection and that might relate to the dizzyness etc, but alas no infection to blame - however when we discussed my symptoms of dizzyness, loss of balance, confusion, anxiety, panic attacks, erratic heart beats etc she clicked that all the symptoms where text book HYPERVENTILATION SYNDROME. I have unknowingly been an "under-breather", which means I take tiny short breaths into my lungs. This under-breathing causes us to have a lack of oxygen and when our body doesn't get enough oxygen we panic and feel faint and dizzy - it's a primitive fight or flight type reaction, but it's very unhealthy to be living in a constant state of anxiety about fight or flight!

I have only just started to retrain my breathing technique but have already noticed that if I catch myself feeling dizzy I just need to start taking healthy breaths in and out again (simply put: 3 seconds breath into diaphram - not into chest - and 4 seconds out) I also plan to take up meditation classes to help with my breathing retraining and you probably should too, but in the meantime do a search for healthy breathing techniques/exercises and start practicing!

I hope this helps!
All the best
Luke..Thank you for posting this, I have noticed when I am having attacks whilst driving I feel better instantly if do deep breathing and that allows me to drive safely. I think I will take up yoga.
Avatar universal
I'm a 46 year old man and I never have had trouble driving. Now, when on the interstates, almost immediately as I pick up speed, I feel like I'm going to faint and cause injury to myself and to others. My vision narrows.
It's debilitating. I even get this feeling on regular roads when the lanes widen or when I'm in an area that is not familiar to me.
I take Xanax, but that does not seem to help the problem. Could Xanax be causing the problem?
My doctor wants me to go in to a neurology specialist to have my brain scanned.
I felt like sobbing when I read all of your posts. I thought that I was the only one in the world experiencing this condition.
I don't want this condition to limit life's opportunities. I even get fearful when  going over the overpasses. When I look down at the interstate, I just want to pass out right there.
Please, someone help me.
Avatar universal
I feel I owe it to anyone who suffers from what I suffer from, and hope that they all find this post, related to driving or not --- but it sounds like you are all suffering from panic attacks/anxiety attacks. Which has been mentioned in this thread.. But I feel I must share my story and go into more detail.

I was 20 years old, driving on RT 80 from PA toward Long Island... I was a smoker at the time, and had just finished a cigarette. Threw it out my window.. rolled it up.. two seconds later my vision closed in on me, my chest got tight and it was difficult to breathe, and before I knew it I was pulled over to the side of the road in sheer terror. I felt as if I were dying, everything was spinning and I was sure death was upon me. Said my prayers, apologized to the lord for things i've done in my life, and was preparing for my certain death. Called my parents, told them I loved them, and they should try to hurry and get to me while they still can (2 hours away). By the time they got there, I had felt okay. Very confused, I thought I was still drunk from the night before, and this was the result of it. However it had scarred me from driving for a very long time. From that moment on I could not even drive around the block without feeling like I am going to pass out or faint while driving. This is of course the BIGGEST inconvenience to anyone with driving capabilities --- to be reduced to walking or bumming rides from other people. However I live in New Jersey, and my Girlfriend lives on Long Island. So I had to suck it up and get over this "fear of driving and passing out." It had been about a week since this escapade, so I figured I'd reschedule my original plans to go to Long Island. However...Anxiety had other plans. It was my best friends 21st birthday the night before I planned on going to Long Island, so I had about 6 beers and hung out -- no big deal. OR so I thought.. About 6 o'clock that morning, I awoke from my sleep in sheer terror. Room closing in on me, once again couldn't breathe, and felt like I was going to pass out or die. So I screamed for my parents and said "we need to go to the hospital, I'm having another episode." So after long hours and tests in the hospital, a Psychiatrist finally came to the conclusion I was having Panic Attacks. These babies (I can't say this legally for sure) I believe may have came from drinking too many "Four Loko". I had just bought my first house, and was having about 2 Four Loko a night, for about 6 days straight. 1 Four Loko is the equivalent of about a 6 pack of beer; except has MANY other dangerous chemicals in it. My Psychiatrist had said I was going through alcohol withdrawal, and panic attacks were a symptom. Thankfully, no one has ever died from a panic attack, it just feels as if you are going to. Anxiety/Panic is something learned, not something instilled. Once your body learns panic, its very hard to forget it. You need to realize your brain can out think you and outsmart you, and it can be difficult to talk yourself down from a panic attack. However, it is possible and gets easier with time. The moral of this long lengthy story is to let others know you are NOT alone and you do NOT have anything life threatening wrong with you. I was unable to drive for about 3-4 months until I learned how to deal with the anxiety. Bridges in particular were the worst, knowing that if I had to pull over I could not. Also highways were bad because the faster I went, the more nervous I got and the more "panic" I experienced. For a very long time I thought it was an inner ear issue that disturbed my balance, but quickly came to realize it was just me, being a prisoner of my own mind. Any one who can relate to this, knows that panic attacks feel like certain impending doom. That you are dying for real, in the real world. Imagine getting your first one, while doing about 70 MPH on the highway? Thats enough to scare the crap out of anyone, and prevent them from driving for a long time. There are many ways to cure panic, (yes I said cure). I have been panic attack-free for about 4 months now. And don't plan on letting them come back. Panic attacks will ruin your life if you let them -- relationships, jobs, and most of all your own perspective on the world. For a few months I couldn't even sleep through the night without being shaken awake by my own mind and be petrified of having an attack. But that is the fact of the matter... The FEAR of the attack is what gets people worse than the actual attack. Being in constant nervousness about having an attack is enough stress to actually give you one or have you borderline freak out. So.. what do I recommend? I for one, recommend NOT medicating yourself, I have been medicated and honestly you are better off dealing with it naturally. I've been on lexapro, klonopin (xanax), the whole 9 yards. Panic isn't easy to over-come, but when you get sick of it ruining your life, you'll go to any extreme to rid of it. The best NATURAL way to avoid it is BREATHING. Sounds pretty stupid I must admit, but it is the best way to relieve your sympathetic nervous system of this trauma. Do something called 7-11 breathing. Inhale for 7 seconds, and exhale for 11. If you can't do this, just try to breathe out at least a second longer than you breathe in. And in about 2 minutes (the longest two minutes of your life), you'll have reduced your panic by what I can personally say is about 65% - 75%. Another thing that works well (personal opinion, not medical fact)? Smoke. Yes I said it. Smoke the green stuff, it helps more than any prescribed drug you will get with no side affects. However --- take precaution with this method. Sometimes drugs (if you can call it that) like that have the adverse affect on people with anxiety. (For example, it's supposed to chill you out, but may make you twice as erratic). There are many ways to get over panic, but the BEST way is to realize you are having a panic attack, and tell yourself that. When you feel one coming on or if its too late and you already feel like death is upon you, just tell yourself "it's only a panic attack, it can only hurt me if I let it". Just like Hoodoo or a ghost, if you don't believe in it, it can't terrorize you.

If this helped one person, be it some one who realizes they have anxiety and don't know how to deal with it, or someone who has similar terrors while driving and had no idea who to turn to, then my work is done. And I empathize with anyone who has this disorder, and will talk to you and try to help you with it all that I can. Just reply to this post and reach out if you suffer from this, and I'll do my best to get back to you. Live well, and remember, you don't have to be trapped within this phobia, you can beat it. God bless.
Avatar universal
i have been feeling very tired and stressed lately with my job. I travel alot with my job. I have been feeling faint and dizzy lately. when driving i feel as though my body is moving faster than the car and i have to refocus. My eyes seem to not focus on people when i am listening to them and i have to refocus like my eyes are crossing. I cant look at people for too long listening to them fear of my eyes going crazy. i have been throwing up in the middle of the night and feel naseated during the day with slight head aches. I feel like i am exhausted. whats wrong with me?
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