The first time I had labyrinthitis, back in 2000, it was something, according to medical authorities, that you usually only get once in a lifetime.
When it hit me again in January, I asked the physician how come and he said, “That’s in one ear.” It turned out it was in the other ear this time.
Labyrinthitis is a nasty bug or condition that is widespread but not reportable to health authorities because it isn’t life-threatening and they don’t know its cause or cure.
All they can do is treat the symptoms. It strikes without warning and if you come down with it, you’ll never forget it and you’ll pray that you never have it again.
The first time I got it was much worse than this time. I got up from working a jigsaw puzzle and felt a momentary dizziness. It was gone in a flash. I mentioned it to my husband and sat down to read the papers.
As I sat, suddenly the room was spinning around me. Pictures on the wall were racing by like a bullet train.
My husband wanted to take me to the hospital, fearing it was a stroke, but I said no, I’ll call my doctor.
Before I could do that, I was stricken with a violent nausea that sent me reeling into the bathroom for the first of many trips.
In between times, we looked up dizziness in our doctor book, the American Medical Association Family Medical Guide, and found what appeared to be the problem.
Labyrinthitis, it is said, is a virus-caused infection of the labyrinth, a group of fluid-filled chambers in the inner ear canal that control balance.
Symptoms are extreme vertigo or dizziness, caused by even the slightest movement of the head, and in some cases, extreme nausea and vomiting.
My doctor confirmed it on the telephone and sent me to the hospital emergency ward.
I made the trip with a bucket in my lap for upchucking and breathing in short pants to avoid head movement.
At the hospital, I was given an anti-dizziness drug intravenously and hours later sent home with meclizine tablets to take every six hours for about a week and a half.
I wrote about it and heard from many people who had suffered attacks, hadn’t seen a doctor and didn’t know what it was.
Fast forward to Jan. 8 this year. When I went to bed that night and settled down to my usual book, the print was racing by me.
Uh-oh. Labyrinthitis. I quit the book, slept a couple of hours and woke up feeling lousy.
When it didn’t improve, I sat up and the vertigo and vomiting hit. I’m alone now, so I called 911 and in about five minutes a couple of paramedics were at the door — I only live a mile from the fire hall.
They decided I should go in to the hospital. I walked down to the first aid car, throwing up on arrival.
One paramedic kept track of my blood pressure during the trip.
It was about an hour before a doctor could see me. They had some critical patients ahead of me, they said.
The doctor was great. He ordered a scopolamine patch to be stuck behind my right ear and said the anti-vertigo medicine it gave off would kick in within a half hour.
It did, and I was soon well enough to go home. Yes, I had a relative to take me since I wasn’t supposed to drive during the three days using the patch during which the virus should run its course, 24 to 72 hours.
I had a second patch but didn’t need it.
I have learned since that there is another theory on labyrinthitis, that it is not caused by a virus, that there are little crystals in your ear canal that sometimes run amok and get stuck, causing vertigo.
How to avoid it? I’ll repeat what the epidemiologist told me the first time. “Your mother told you to cover your mouth when you sneeze and wash your hands. I’m with your mother.”
Remember, that was blaming it on a virus.
Adele Ferguson can be reached at PO Box 69. Hansville, WA 98340.