I have never been the type of person to rush to the doctor, and I’ve been fortunate to have most of my medical issues clear up naturally. I’ve never been too much of a worrier either. What I have been is a marathon runner, which means that I just tend to ignore/endure discomfort and keep moving forward.
Over the course of the past year (the last year of my 30’s) I developed a few mildly annoying issues. I assumed them to be unrelated to one another, and that they were probably due to approaching the age of 40, as everyone over the age of 40 told me to expect! Here is my short list of super minor-seeming ailments:
(1) My eyesight was not as sharp as I thought it should be and I had a bit of double vision, but I was functioning perfectly fine and assumed that my last contact lens prescription wasn’t quite right. (I had ordered them in bulk from Costco though, so I was in no hurry to re-check until I had burned through my stock nine months later.)
(2) The hearing in my left ear seemed a little less sharp as well, and I found myself frequently having to ask people to repeat themselves, especially if there was background noise. (This was driving my kids crazy, since they were perceiving this as my just not “listening” to them. They were NOT to be persuaded into believing that I just really could not HEAR.) I figured my ear was impacted with wax, which had happened a few times when I was much younger, and when I eventually got the chance to go to my doctor, I’d mention it. Again, I felt no need to rush.
(3) I also started to have my first bouts of something like vertigo when I was sleeping on my left side. I’d occasionally wake up in the night feeling an intense head rush, feeling like I was upside down and spinning. It would only last about 5 seconds, so it really wasn’t affecting me THAT much. (I thought that maybe my pillow was in a weird position, like when you’re camping and you set up your bed a wee bit downhill at the head.) It finally got officially annoying when I had my head upside down blow-drying my hair everyday, and when trying to hold certain positions in my Pilates class, so I finally looked it up on the internet and it seemed to clearly be Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV.) My dad had had it years ago, and it apparently just goes away on its own, so there wasn’t much to do about it. No need to rush to the doctor, right?
(4) The only other symptom I had was that I felt slightly off-balance and clumsy. When my husband and I would be out hiking on a narrow trail, I would be swerving back and forth a little, as if I had had a few cocktails. (I may have had some AFTER the hike, but not before.) 😉 That was the final symptom that seemed a little more suspicious, and I wondered if there was something going on in my inner ear. It was still so mild, and I had no pain, so I felt no need to rush to the doctor.
I sent a casual email with this information to my amazing integrative medicine practitioner, Beth Dorsey, and she replied with, “Hmmm…sounds like something is pressing on your cranial nerve.” Now, this woman has been fantastic at guiding me through managing my (AND my kids’) autoimmune disease over the past couple years (We all have hereditary thyroid issues / Hashimoto’s Disease, and we manage it with diet instead of medication–more on that later), so I trust her Eastern perspective on everything. This was the first time I considered that maybe ALL of the symptoms were related, and the thought of “something” pressing on my cranial nerves certainly sounded tumor-like. That first hunch of hers led me to make an appointment with my general practitioner for a check-up. (It had been a few years, and I was just a few weeks shy of turning the big 4-0, so it seemed like a wise move anyway.) My GP didn’t have any solid hunches, but my ear had no wax in it, and she thought the vertigo was likely BPPV or possibly Meniere’s Disease, since the problem had gone on for awhile and wasn’t going away on its own. She referred me to an audiologist and Ear Nose Throat (ENT) specialist to investigate a little further. Those appointments were booked 5 weeks out, so in the meantime I did get to enjoy an incredibly dreamy 40th birthday trip/second honeymoon to Croatia with my husband for two weeks.
The audiologist conducted a series of tests and determined that I had lost 25% of my hearing in my left ear, and struggled especially with high-frequency sounds. She also concluded that I had a hypermobile tympanic membrane, which I later looked up and learned was tinnitus. (I had no symptoms of that though.) She had no idea why I’d have hearing loss, and was very curious to hear what the ENT had to say. My appointment with the ENT specialist quickly followed, and he diagnosed me with BPPV, and ruled out Meniere’s Disease. He tried some head/body movement routines with the use of a tuning fork to help improve the vertigo, and it seemed to help at the time. I mentioned my vision and balance issues as well, but he didn’t mention any other possibilities about those being related, given my age and good health. The next step would be to get a brain MRI to see if something was growing in the ear canal, but he said it would be SO rare to find something that it was just quite unlikely. Still, it was the last thing he could think of to do. He seemed a bit hesitant to order it (probably because of the $2500 cost!), but he had no other ideas about what could be causing my hearing loss. With regards to my vision, I was referred to an optometrist for a comprehensive exam. With regards to my balance being off, it wasn’t off during the walking test I did in the office, so maybe that didn’t really count as a concern. Nothing major seemed to be on anyone’s mind…