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Living With Chronic Dizziness: Diagnosis And Treatment

26/10/2016 14:40

Most people will be dizzy at some point in their lives. Whether it's a childhood game of dizzy dinosaurs, a nasty ear infection, or too many drinks at the pub, dizziness is a feeling most of us are familiar with in one way or another.

It's estimated that around 15% of the population will see a doctor for dizziness at some point in their lives, and the number of people suffering from some form of imbalance jumps to around 40% for people over 60.

But although it's a relatively common complaint, chronic or long-term dizziness can be devastating for those affected.

Searching for a Diagnosis

It's over eight months since I woke up one morning to a swaying inside my head, 'jumping' attacks that caused the room to lurch, and an inability to tolerate loud noises, crowded rooms, or 'busy' environments.

Since then I've suffered from dizziness every day, and I know first-hand the ways in which my horizons have suddenly grown smaller, as even simple tasks can leave me overwhelmed, or worse: clinging to a wall in an attempt to stop the room from spinning.

Despite seeing a number of specialists, the cause of my sudden chronic dizziness hasn't yet been confirmed, and I'm far from the only vestibular patient with this problem.

Cynthia Ryan, the Executive Director of the Vestibular Disorders Association (VEDA), says getting a diagnosis is often one of the most difficult parts of living with dizziness.

"The medical community is sadly uninformed about vestibular disorders. As a matter of fact, many healthcare providers [in America] avoid dizzy patients, because they're messy and difficult to deal with."

"What often happens, is vestibular patients go to their GP, or end up in hospital due to a fall. When life threatening conditions like stroke are ruled out, they are then sent home with medication for the dizziness, but nothing really improves."

For patients in America, the cost involved in getting to the bottom of their illness can mean that many either don't seek help, or give up after repeatedly hitting a brick wall. Although treatment is free at the point of entry in the UK, the long NHS waiting times mean that I've often waited 3 months between referrals, which is distressing when my daily life is so badly restricted.

VEDA hope to change this pattern of waiting, Cynthia says, by advocating for improvement in the medical system through partnerships with vestibular trainers and rehabilitators, researchers, and clinicians.

"One of our goals is to create a triage protocol that will help GPs differentiate between vestibular and non-vestibular forms of dizziness. This way, we can get patients referred to the appropriate specialist for diagnosis."

Finding a Specialist

Because there are two general categories of vestibular disorder, finding the appropriate specialist can be another difficulty for patients who are already struggling with their symptoms.

Central disorders, like vestibular migraine, have to do with the brain and the nervous system, and so require a neurologist to investigate the problem. Peripheral disorders, however, originate in the inner ear, and so require either an ENT, or in some cases an oto-neurologist or neuro-otologist to deal with the issue.

On top of all of this, it's preferable to see a specialist who has additional training in vestibular disorders, if you want to ensure an effective treatment plan.

Getting Answers

With so much to consider, and 'dizziness' being a very general word for what is often a very specific sensation unique to its underlying cause, it's no wonder that chronically dizzy patients can begin to lose heart.

VEDA are trying to change this pattern of frustration by making it easier for vestibular patients to access the care they so desperately need. The organisation provides a directory of specialists with experience in diagnosing and treating vestibular disorders, as well as access to numerous support groups, which provide invaluable encouragement and knowledge-sharing resources for their members.

Despite how difficult it maybe, finding a diagnosis and pushing for effective treatment is the most crucial factor in successful vestibular recovery. No matter how bleak it may seem, with the right support, chronic dizziness doesn't have to be a life-sentence.

For more information, visit VEDA's website here.

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