Chances are the majority of the public has heard the term vertigo, but how many understand what vertigo is? Some people believe vertigo is a spinning sensation at high altitudes, or heights. Others understand it to be dizziness. The term vertigo has been used as a blanketed term for so long that it’s lost its medical meaning in the general public. As vertigo affects millions of Americans, millions more do not understand how debilitating living with chronic vertigo can be. As an invisible ailment, vertigo can be difficult to understand or sympathize with if you have never felt it. Many co-workers, spouses, family members, or strangers may have a difficult time wrapping their heads around this disorder that shows no outward physical symptoms. How then can you, as a vertigo suffer explain how your life has been turned upside down by vertigo. Perhaps you are a friend, spouse, family member, or colleague to someone that lives with vertigo, and would like to better understand it.
The first thing you must understand about vertigo is: No two people’s vertigo episodes are alike. The best way to explain this is by using a headache as an example. Everyone has experienced a headache at one point in time or another. Headaches are common enough that children and adults are familiar with them. The severity of a headache can also differ from person to person. Headaches are even categorized. A tension headache is not the same as a migraine. Pain from a sinus pressure headache will differ than a cluster headache. What may trigger a headache in one person is completely different from another.
People who have never experienced vertigo can start understanding the complexity of the disorder through the example of headaches and although they may have never been through a debilitating headache episode they can see how one could leave someone in need to lay down or seek medical help. It is important to come to the table with an open mind and willing to exchange dialog to better understand where each of you is coming from. It is alright to have many questions. Questions help your loved one better explain their experience to you. Always keep in mind that defensive attitudes and rude remarks won’t help the conversation reach a place of understanding. Both parties must stay respectful and genuine in wanting to understand each other better.
“I’ve never heard of vertigo, what causes it, and what does it feel like?”
Vertigo isn’t the name of a disease. It is a symptom caused by other health issues, the list is long and can make it difficult to pinpoint the root cause. The intensity one sufferer feels vertigo can range and can be unique from person to person. The most common characteristic of vertigo is feeling the sensation of movement when there is none. The sufferer may feel tilting or spinning, that can leave sufferers nauseous or unstable.
“Vertigo doesn’t sound that serious. Just sounds like when someone stands up too quickly”
Nothing catches you by surprise more than the light-headedness from standing up too quickly. Imagine that feeling never leaving and maybe getting worse throughout the day. Vertigo may not sound serious to you or others but it affects 8 million people and me regularly.
“If vertigo affects so many people why isn’t there a cure?”
That’s what’s so frustrating about this health issue, vertigo has been experienced by at least 69 million people at some point in their life, and 8 million report chronic attacks from vertigo daily. It can take months and sometimes years for doctors to rule out certain diagnoses to finally find the cause. Some may never get a diagnosis and have to live with treating the symptoms to resume a normal life.
“Can’t you just power through it?”
Believe me, I power through my vertigo every day. Some days are better than others but I am not operating at 100%. It’s frustrating for me not being able to complete my to-do list or be able to participate in my own life. I do what I can every day with what energy and clarity I have.
“I bet eating a better diet will curb your symptoms.”
Diet habits are one of the first things my doctor and I discussed together. I have made adjustments according to my doctor’s recommendations. I’ve cut out and given up a lot of foods I enjoyed to rule out any allergies or diet interference. At the suggestion of my doctor, I’ve kept up with these diet changes to avoid an increase in vertigo attacks.
“I have felt dizzy and light-headed before, it didn’t stop me from my daily tasks”
Most people have experienced dizziness at some point in their life. Sometimes it’s a fleeting feeling that just requires a few moments to catch your breath or balance. Unfortunately, for me, the dizziness doesn’t go away. It’s with me moment to moment. Vertigo doesn’t just affect my ability to perform daily tasks it also keeps me from doing basic things like washing my hair and sleeping.
“Can’t you just take medication for vertigo?”
Some vertigo sufferers find relief in prescription medications, although it can vary. Since the cause of my vertigo hasn’t been pinpointed, it’s been a journey of its own, taking medications with little to no relief. I try to stay positive when I don’t respond to treatment. I know that my doctor and I are that much closer to finding one that works for me.
“I knew someone with vertigo, and they said it wasn’t so bad.“
I’m going to ask you to remember the headache example and apply it to your statement. Not all headaches are the same. Even the same person can experience different degrees of headache pain at different points in their life. The same goes for vertigo. Some people get episodes of vertigo a few times a week or even a few times a year. I can’t speculate about your other friend you are referring to but my experience with vertigo is unique to me and I am trying to understand what affects me and what triggers my attacks to regain my life.
“You’ve been canceling a lot of plans lately saying it’s your vertigo.”
Not only does vertigo affect my health, it affects my ability to keep commitments I may have made when my health was better. My recent cancelation of plans doesn’t mean I don’t care about you or care less about supporting you. I am doing my best in learning my limits. My heart and mind are always with you even when my body doesn’t allow me.
“Why can’t your doctor just fix you?”
I have had breakdowns asking myself the same thing. Ruling out diagnosis takes time, processing tests in labs takes time, waiting to see if my body is responding to therapy or medications takes time. I wish more than anyone my vertigo would leave just as quickly as it came, and my doctors and friends remind me of the reality… that it will take time.
“Maybe if you exercised more your vertigo would be under control.”
Exercising is a whole new experience for me with vertigo, and it’s a completely different definition. My exercise routine has transformed into working out my inner ear. I do specialized head movements and maneuvers to help me regain my balance. Some people experience relief quickly while others have to keep at it to start seeing and feeling the results.
“Are you open to trying holistic treatments?”
I‘ve had to have an open mind about the changes in my daily life dealing with vertigo. I have been open to my doctor‘s suggestions in changing habits and my diet to better manage my vertigo. I am open to new research and information. Many people have found success in managing their vertigo with holistic therapies or products. I am willing to exploring them after doing some independent research. I may need to consult with my doctor to make sure it won’t interfere with any medications or lifestyle adjustments my doctor has recommended.
“Will you ever get better?”
Trust me, if there’s anyone that wants that more it’s me! It has been a struggle adjusting to my new normal. Experiencing my world spinning while I am standing still. I have had emotional breakdowns dealing with my state of health and wondering if this is what I will have to live like for the rest of my life. My mental wellbeing, as well as my physical health, have been through the wringer. I hope I will find the answers soon to help me regain my balance and my life once again.
“How can I help?”
That is very kind to ask and offer. It may vary day to day or even week to week. I may need help picking up groceries or tidying around the house. Some tasks may be more intimate like helping me wash my hair or making sure I don’t lose my balance in the shower. Your physical help may not be needed, and I may need emotional support when I feel defeated by my chronic symptoms. However you are willing and available to help me I will be grateful for it.