How Tinnitus, Vertigo And Dizziness Affect Intra-Familial Relationships

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How Tinnitus, Vertigo/Dizziness, and Meniere’s disease can Affect Intra-Familial Relationships

Inner ear disturbances, as well as damage to the auditory nerve that results in tinnitus can be uncomfortable, painful and frustrating for the patient with these disorders. For the patient’s family, it can be just as devastating.

     Tinnitus is defined as various noises, such as ringing, the sound of crickets, or even, rarely, music, in the ears. Only the tinnitus patient can hear these sounds, and they can be so loud as to make normal conversation difficult. A ringing sound in the ears takes away the ability to understand conversational speech as well as those who do not have tinnitus. The sounds in the ear or ears can make consonant sounds difficult to distinguish. Patients may misunderstand what is said, and frustrate family members when they try to speak to one another. Left untreated, or without learning coping skills to overcome this disorder of hearing, communications can easily break down. Patients tired of being yelled at or ignored because others are too impatient or frustrated to keep trying to communicate often ‘switch off’, and stop reaching out for conversation. This leads to isolation, because not reaching out for conversation can go hand in hand with not going out to restaurants, movies, clubs or parties for fear of embarrassment and the frustration of not being able to communicate as easily as they once did. Feelings of isolation often result, and family members and friends often feel the tinnitus patient ‘only hears when they want to’, or ‘could understand if they would only try. They don’t want to understand.’ The sounds heard in the ears of a tinnitus patient can fluctuate from moment to moment, sometimes reaching a painful intensity. The communications breakdown in these cases can lead to anger and resentment, as well as depression.

     Vertigo is a persistent feeling of dizziness that does not go away. Vertigo can be caused by Meniere’s disease, an inner ear disturbance, Chronic Otitis Media-infection of the middle ear-, Labyrinthitis-irritation and/or infection of the inner ear, and other disturbances. These disorders cause vertigo, which left untreated, can be debilitating. The feeling of spinning, whether the patient feels they are spinning, or whether they feel the room itself is spinning, can make just sitting up difficult, as there is a persistent feeling that the patient is going to fall. Severe vertigo can actually cause falls, because it causes loss of balance. Vertigo is nauseating when the patient is sitting still; put them into a moving vehicle, and severe motion sickness can result.

      Debilitating vertigo can cause problems within the family because the physical activities of the dizzy patient are limited until such time as proper medication can be used, or the vertigo goes away. Children feel resentful of an always dizzy parent, who cannot perform many of the activities they did before they were dizzy. Marital relations can suffer because the dizzy patient has a lowered libido due to fatigue. Vertigo can be an energy drainer because the patient is working so hard to keep themselves upright. Travel is often limited by vertigo, because of feelings of nausea and worsening of the dizziness due to motion sickness symptoms. This limits social opportunities, and can be so debilitating as to cause the patient to lose work opportunities. This adds financial worry to an already stressful situation. High stress levels are known to raise blood pressure. Elevated blood pressure also can cause dizziness, which only adds to the vertigo. 

Vertigo which occurs along with tinnitus is not usually related to the tinnitus, but when the two occur together, it can make communication difficult. The correlation of tinnitus and communication problems has already been mentioned. The correlation of vertigo related to inner ear disturbances and social and physical isolation has been mentioned. What happens when the dizzy patient has tinnitus at the same time? When this happens, then the emotional, physical and communicational isolation is more pronounced, and twice as difficult to overcome.

The dizzy patient with tinnitus can become depressed because of the difficulty in communication. If the dizzy patient stops reaching out for simple conversation with family members, becomes withdrawn or even reclusive, then this is a sign of a serious depression which needs to be treated. Families need advice and counseling about communication with one another when hearing problems arise. Children sense the tension and frustration in the air when communication breaks down due to a health problem such as this. They can resent the parent with the disorder, having heard the other parent say such things as, ‘they can hear me when they want to’, or, ‘if they were paying attention to me, I wouldn’t have to repeat myself.’ Sometimes, the children will turn the other way, and resent the parent making such statements. Communications advice could definitely be a boon to a family when one of its members has such problems as moderate to severe tinnitus and/or dizziness.

      Treating  vertigo, whether with over-the-counter antihistamines, or with stronger prescription medication, is imperative to quality of life for the dizzy patient. This treatment also is a boon to the family of a dizzy patient. Travel to local parks, restaurants, theme parks can be resumed. Family outings, however small, can bond families to one another with positive, meaningful experiences. Children who spend time with their parents as a unit are better-rounded, self-secure people as adults. Family outings are one way to help children achieve  self-confidence. Severely limited travel caused by uncontrolled or acute vertigo makes family outings next to impossible. The dizzy patient can easily become a recluse, because motion sickness can be so severe. The loss of balance caused by severe vertigo can cause self-esteem issues leading to social phobia, because the dizzy patient feels they are being judged by others, or because they fear embarrassment or humiliation in public. Children often take this reclusive behavior as a reflection on them. They may feel the dizzy parent is embarrassed to be seen with them, or they may feel the dizzy parent is selfish or self-centered, making excuses as to why they can’t do this or that with their children. In instances such as this, the parent needs to make certain to explain to the children what the trouble is; honesty is paramount .

Tinnitus, dizziness, vertigo, and Meniere ’s disease can affect intra-familial relations adversely. Communications  breakdowns can occur in a relatively short period of time.  Depression, self-esteem issues, and social phobia can hit the dizzy patient quickly, and these problems can be complicated to overcome, complicated to treat.  The dizzy patient and the tinnitus patient can be hard for their family to live with when their disorders are moderate to severe, or when they are in an acute phase. Counseling, both family and marital counseling, as well as joining a support group for those who suffer with these disorders can be invaluable in helping to restore normality to family relationships. Treating the causes, if known, of these disorders, or controlling the symptoms if the root is unknown, is  important to the quality of life of the whole family.

     When a member of the family has a disorder that affects their quality of life, as these disorders do, then the whole family is affected.  A partner may have to take over many of the duties of the affected person. Children may end up taking on roles which are a bit older than those of their peers, thereby forcing them to grow up a bit faster than their peers. Families have to pull together to keep their family a functional one, rather than to allow it to become a dysfunctional family. This means getting an appointment with a good Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist, getting testing and treatment for these disorders.

      There are many ways Tinnitus ,Vertigo, Dizziness, and Meniere ’s disease can be treated, and if treated in time, many of the worst side effects, such as depression, isolation, social phobia, and communications breakdown can be avoided. A good Audiologist can help with tinnitus. A device much like a hearing aid can be placed in the patient’s ear which masks the noise of tinnitus. This device can also be incorporated into a hearing aid, even the implantable type, if traditional hearing aids cannot be worn.  Vertigo can be treated with over-the-counter antihistamines, such as Dramamine or Bonine, or in more severe cases, with benzodiazepines, such as Valium or Klonopin.  Physical therapy- balance retraining- can also help greatly. With physical therapy, the dizzy patient is put through a series of exercises to rehabilitate, and ‘retrain’ the brain, thereby giving coping skills to the vertigo sufferer.

     Tinnitus, vertigo, dizziness and Meniere’s disease can be treated, and, if treated quickly, quality of life for  the patient and the family will not suffer permanent damage. Left untreated, serious mental health issues for the patient can, and often do, arise. These problems will affect the entire family. Left untreated, they can make life more difficult for the family than even the patient. Not treating these disorders, and keeping the symptoms under control is not an option. These disorders affect quality of life for the entire family, not just the patient who suffers with these disorders.

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