The Terrifying Moment I Developed BPPV in Turkey


Lauren on a drip in Turkey

Sweat poured over my body as I gripped the edge of my bed in delirium, too afraid to open my eyes. 

Five seconds ago I had been sound asleep, peacefully dreaming. But now? Now, I felt like I was being spun violently in a washing machine, the bed having turned to jelly, my head pounding as if it was about to explode.

Is this an earthquake? Am I drunk? … Am I dying?

Is this all in my head?

Driving my fingernails into my palm, I very slowly, and very cautiously, opened one eye. I waited for the room to focus, for everything in sight to stop whirling around me… Except it didn’t.

I forced myself to sit upright, trying to focus on the door of our guesthouse in Selcuk. As the room raced around my head uncontrollably, I realised that this wasn’t going to stop.

Am I having a stroke? A seizure? Is this a brain tumour? 

I started to scream and paw frantically at Dave as I forced my head between my knees and desperately willed the world to stop moving.

As the spinning eventually slowed down, a brand new sensation took over.

Forcing myself to crawl out of bed, I staggered to the bathroom, where I proceeded to vomit uncontrollably. Resting my head on the cool porcelain would start off the spinning again and yet another round of vomiting would begin.

It was at this point I realised that there was something seriously wrong with me.

Lauren on a drip in Turkey

An hour later I was in hospital.

As the doctors ran test after test after test, checking for heart and brain issues, taking blood and putting me on a drip, I grew more and more nervous. When they put a stethoscope on my stomach and asked “how long?” I burst into tears, convinced they were telling me I was pregnant.

I hate hospitals at the best of times. I’m fortunate in that I’ve only had to visit once before — when I broke my arm twice at two years old. (I didn’t like the plaster cast they put on my arm the first time and somehow managed to break my arm in a completely different spot so I could drag my arm out and scratch it!)

Being in hospital in a small Turkish town where nobody speaks a word of English was terrifying. Without the doctors being able to convey much at all, they simply motioned for me to wait in bed and then left me alone to panic. This was not quite how I envisioned spending my Turkey holidays! However, by this point, I had realised that the spinning only seemed to occur whenever I rotated my head to either side, so at least the waiting wasn’t filled with dramatic room spins and projectile vomiting.

Three hours later the doctor came back with some medication for me. I was told to take it three times a day and to return in five days for an MRI scan if it hadn’t improved. Of course, I was supposed to be leaving Selcuk the very next day, heading to Fethiye for a two week yachting trip, which, if you know how seasick I get, wasn’t looking very likely right now. Still, I was exhausted and too tired to explain to the doctor that I would be leaving. I’d figure it out later.

I arrived back in the room and turned to trusty Google to try and work out what the medication was and what exactly I’d been diagnosed with. I instantly discovered benign paroxysmal positional vertigo and it made perfect sense. BPPV is when small crystals in your ear become dislodged, drift into your inner ear and as they roll around, ie, whenever you move your head, they brush against the hairs in your inner ear causing your brain to freak out, think that you’re moving, sending your vision crazy.

Sometimes it never goes away.

Most of the time, it will always come back every few months for the rest of your life.

However, I am absolutely delighted that after a horrible few days of sleeping upright and being unable to move my head, the vertigo finally subsided and I was able to sail around Turkey after all!

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this was an isolated event and it won’t be returning in a few months’ time…

56 Comments

  1. Jeremy Branham
    December 11, 2012
    Reply

    Wow, what an awful experience! Aside from being dizzy, the cold sweat and vomiting remind me of food poisoning (and that’s horrible).

    These things always seem to find you. However, the worst part is that it may come back. UGH!! Hopefully this is a one time thing and this will just be another story for you to tell (these are adding up aren’t they?).

    • December 14, 2012
      Reply

      I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it won’t come back. Always plenty of stories to tell! F*cking up is my niche!

  2. Jeremy
    December 11, 2012
    Reply

    I started reading this article and went “oh that sounds familiar” and sure enough, Angie had the same thing a while back. Lasted for several days and she couldn’t move without getting sick. Had to lay on her side and do bizarre head movements to try and dislodge the crystals.

    Sounds like you had a much worse experience though. I know it says it could come back frequently, but hopefully yours will subside for quite a long time like Angie’s has!

    • Lauren
      December 14, 2012
      Reply

      I’m always surprised at how many people have also suffered from BPPV – it’s hardly ever spoken about but it seems like so many people have experienced it!

      Glad to hear that Angie’s has subsided :)

  3. Seattle Dredge
    December 11, 2012
    Reply

    hahahah did they ever explain why they put the stethoscope on your stomach?? That’s cruel yet hilarious!

    Too bad about the rest, hopefully it stays away. And, I never knew that about vertigo–thanks Doc ;D

    • December 14, 2012
      Reply

      Apparently I have a vein in my stomach that’s really close to the surface. The doctor thought it was cool so kept listening to it and inviting other to do so too! Terrified.

      • February 14, 2017
        Reply

        I actually hate when the doctors do that…like invite other doctors to investigate. I always have a major panic attack when that happens though I know it’s necessary and part of their doctors training and helps them make the correct diagnosis

        • February 15, 2017
          Reply

          Ha! Yes! I was like, what’s wrong with me?! What rare disease do I have?!

  4. December 11, 2012
    Reply

    Oh man, that sounds terrible! I had a similar experience ending up in a Brazilian hospital.. it’s a tough thing to go through in a foreign country, that’s for sure. I really hope you feel better and it doesn’t come back!!

    • December 14, 2012
      Reply

      I think it was made a lot worse by the fact I was in a foreign country! Especially when they spoke barely any English and kept confusing words!

  5. Britany
    December 11, 2012
    Reply

    That sounds absolutely terrible. I get seasick too and if I had been feeling like that, there’s no way I’d get on a boat so quickly. Way to be a trooper and I hope it doesn’t come back!!

    • December 14, 2012
      Reply

      Thanks, Britany!

      It was tough forcing myself to get on the yacht but I didn’t want to let anyone down by backing out at the last minute :)

  6. Ayesha
    December 11, 2012
    Reply

    I have the same thing the whole room was spinning like I was drunk when I had not touched a drink in a long time.

    Thankfully I only get small episodes of it now. Make sure not to get run down or too tired. Whenever I am tired it triggers it multiple times a day.

    I can go a long time without having a wee episode- and really it doesn’t bother me anymore :)

    It does get better – it is just about learning not to let it freak you out and also learning what triggers it- for me standing up to fast, biking (sometimes) and even bright mall lights.

    Hope you are still feeling better- that first bout is the scariest and most intense it ever got for me- everything after that has just made me feel a bit lightheaded.

    Ayesha

    • December 14, 2012
      Reply

      Hi Ayesha,

      Yes! That’s exactly how I was describing it to people! I felt like I was ridiculously drunk but hadn’t touched any alcohol!

      I’m glad to hear it’s not as bad for you anymore and I’ll be sure to take care of myself to try and prevent it happening again :)

      Thanks for all the reassurance!

  7. Kiera
    December 11, 2012
    Reply

    Hey Lauren,
    If you’re worried about it returning there is a clinic here in Melbourne that specializes in BPPV and other vestibular problems. There are exercises you can do to help that might be worth knowing in case it starts up again while you’re a long way from help. It’s called the Dizzy Day clinic, at the eye and ear hospital.

    Glad you’ve stayed well since!

    • December 18, 2012
      Reply

      Hi Keira!

      Thanks for commenting — and for the useful information! Sounds like it would be a good idea to check it out in case it happens again…

  8. December 11, 2012
    Reply

    I had to sleep upright once, it was a pain in the ass… mine wasn’t from vertigo though… it was from an inflamed uvula aka uvulitus.

    • December 11, 2012
      Reply

      woops. ps. hope you are back to full strength soon… and you make that sailing adventure!

    • December 19, 2012
      Reply

      I can’t even tell you what I originally thought a uvula was…

  9. December 12, 2012
    Reply

    That sounds horrid! I didn’t even know that we had crystals inside our ear, I thought it was nothing but bitter tasting ear wax. Hopefully it will go away – I don’t want you projectile vomiting on me at TBEX.

    • December 19, 2012
      Reply

      I know, right?! I didn’t know either… It seems to be staying away so far…

  10. December 12, 2012
    Reply

    What a horrible experience! I’m glad it passed quickly and hope it doesn’t come back! Or at least not as violently! I don’t know that I’d have been able to go sailing afterwards though.. :P

    • December 19, 2012
      Reply

      Yeah, sailing was pretty tough! Keeping my fingers crossed that it doesn’t return :)

  11. Lilian
    December 12, 2012
    Reply

    You’re brave getting on a boat after all of that, it sounds so scary. I hope it doesn’t come back.

    • December 19, 2012
      Reply

      Thanks, Lilian! It was pretty rough getting on the boat – and I almost leaped off again several times!

  12. Scarlett
    December 12, 2012
    Reply

    Ohhh you poor thing, I would have been TERRIFIED!! You look so sorry for yourself in that hospital bed :( Glad it went away and hope it never comes back xx

    • December 19, 2012
      Reply

      I honestly thought my head was about to explode. I can’t believe I posted that photo but it’s the only one I had – terrible!

  13. December 12, 2012
    Reply

    This is terrifying – so it can just come from nowhere? Was there something that triggered it (lots of swimming maybe?)? I’m glad you’re feeling better now; you are extremely brave for getting on a boat so soon afterwards!

    • December 19, 2012
      Reply

      Yep, pretty much! I hadn’t been swimming, hadn’t knocked my head or done anything that could have caused it, but from my research it seems like it can just appear out of nowhere and nobody really knows what causes it!

      Maybe I spun around violently in my sleep and sent the crystals flying?!

  14. Jessica
    December 12, 2012
    Reply

    I feel for you – there’s nothing scarier than being in a hospital in an unfamiliar place. I had to visit a small hospital in Thailand once after a scooter accident, and there really wasn’t anyone who spoke English at all. It’s terrifying when you can’t communicate at a time when you really need to.

  15. December 12, 2012
    Reply

    This is scary… But, at least you are not pregnant, right? ;)

    • December 19, 2012
      Reply

      Definitely a positive! Could you imagine me trying to travel with a child in tow?!

  16. Amanda
    December 13, 2012
    Reply

    Yikes, that sounds terrifying!

    I’m waiting for vertigo to strike me… my mom has had it, and I always seem to take after her.

    • December 19, 2012
      Reply

      Ugh, well fingers crossed you never get to experience it — it’s horrible! :(

  17. Sonia
    December 14, 2012
    Reply

    Hope the medicine will work and you’re gonna feel better soon!

    • December 19, 2012
      Reply

      Thanks, Sonia. It did work and I do feel better! :)

  18. December 15, 2012
    Reply

    Wow, it’s crazy to hear this first hand. Any idea’s what brought it on?

    • December 19, 2012
      Reply

      Nope, absolutely nothing happened to my head or my ears beforehand.

      It can apparently be caused by an ear infection, a bang to the head or general ageing…

  19. Fida
    December 16, 2012
    Reply

    I have it off an on, out of nowhere, at least I can’t figure out a pattern. And like you said, the first time it’s terrifying. I don’t take any medicine. I can keep it at bay by breathing very deep and fast, almost like hyperventilating. Then it goes away quickly.

    • December 26, 2012
      Reply

      Thanks for the advice, Fida! I hate taking medication so I’ll try doing that if it ever returns :)

  20. December 17, 2012
    Reply

    Oh no – I feel for you! While I haven’t had vertigo as badly as you did – no vomiting – I do still get dizzy if I turn my head suddenly and if not careful I can fall over. I slipped on ice and fell backwards hitting my head while walking my dog over ten years ago. At the time it was very intense – room spinning while laying in bed as you describe. I was told it was supposed to be gone within six months. Ha ha ha. I was sent to a neurologist who told me it could occur on and off my whole life. And it has…I have to be very careful how I turn my head and I don’t climb on anything! It is a pain in the you know where but I work around it. I am off to Cambodia next month and I already know that climbing the temples at Angkor Wat is not an option for me.
    I hope the rest of your trip goes smoothly and your symptoms don’t come back! Take care.

    • December 26, 2012
      Reply

      Wow, that sounds horrible, Laurie — I’m so sorry to hear that!

      It’s a shame you won’t be able to climb the temples at Angkor, but they’re still incredible to walk around without climbing! Sometimes, it’s even preferable because it’s so hot there!

  21. TammyOnTheMove
    December 17, 2012
    Reply

    You poor thing. That just sounds awful! Never heard of it before. Glad you have recovered and are not pregnant. ;-)

    • December 19, 2012
      Reply

      Thank you so much, Tammy! I hadn’t heard of it before either.

  22. December 19, 2012
    Reply

    Uhhh WHAT?! I’ve never heard of this but it sounds completely terrible!! They didn’t say what causes it??

    • December 26, 2012
      Reply

      It’s crazy isn’t it?! Nobody really knows what causes it, to be honest! It could be anything like an ear infection, hitting your head, swinging around too violently!

  23. December 28, 2012
    Reply

    My father-in-law has this and gets it quite often. I don’t know if he knows about the exercises. I saw the exercises on the T.V. show recently as well. I shall have to ask him. I can empathize with your symptoms and not wanting to go on that boat.

  24. January 2, 2013
    Reply

    Ooof! Sounds familiar, like my visit to a Bolivian hospital with strange injections and pills and no English and full of panic! Hope all is well – Happy New Year!

  25. Natasha
    April 20, 2015
    Reply

    I suffer from vertigo, I’ve had it about 3-4 times over the last 2 years! Had scans etc but nothing came up… I usually get them with a migraine so my dr says it’s probably a symptom of your migraine. It could very well be what you have? It doesn’t bother me though because I know it won’t kill me :)

    • June 30, 2015
      Reply

      It could be! I haven’t had another… episode since, so I think I should be okay if it’s been a few years! I definitely wouldn’t panic as much next time!

  26. Laura
    July 18, 2016
    Reply

    Hello Lauren. This was a very interesting post! Thanks for sharing all your adventures! You mentioned you get seasick, what do you do in those situations? What medication works for you? I use Dramamine but it makes me fall asleep too :(

    • July 19, 2016
      Reply

      Honestly, I just use Dramamine because it works best for me, and put with the sleepiness!

  27. Daisy
    March 30, 2017
    Reply

    WOW I would be freaking out if that happened to me. Happy to hear you survived it. I once got BPPV last year and it hasn’t come back since. I took this homeopathic drops reccommended from my Naturopath and it helped. Has the BPPV come back since?

    • March 30, 2017
      Reply

      No, it thankfully hasn’t returned :-)

  28. Dawn McIntosh
    December 27, 2018
    Reply

    I woke up with this a couple of days ago and found this thread while researching it. It was terrifying – I actually thought I was having a stroke at first. The doctor diagnosed it very quickly and taught me some exercises to do, which provoke an attack (apparently a good thing). Scary. Hope yours hasn’t returned!

    • January 5, 2019
      Reply

      Mine hasn’t returned, thankfully! Just one episode and then five-odd years of nothing, so fortunately, it seems to be a one-time thing for me. I hope yours will end up being the same!

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