I’ve been putting together pieces of the puzzle the past week and think I may finally have a reason for my dizziness. I’ve been battling left-sided head pressure/tingling, dizziness, tinnitus, neck and ear pain for over 15 months now. It’s been progressive except for a three month period this spring when I felt perhaps 75-80% better.
My symptoms started a day or two after I was doing some fairly aggressive sit-ups, pulling up on my neck and holding my head up multiple times. It was then that I started feeling a remarkable pain in the back, left side of my neck. After two weeks, my head started tingling in the back left side, and this sensation eventually started popping up over my left ear and near the top of my head.
Fast forward many months and many doctors, and a dentist gave me steroid injections into the occipital area in multiple places on the left side of my head. After six hours, I felt pretty much normal. This lasted for 24 hours and then the dizziness came back five times as bad as it was before. It stayed at that level for two days before getting back to my usual state of horrible. I chalked the temporary improvement up to a coincidence since I was told the steroid would take many days before it would take effect.
Fast forward a couple more months with continued complaints of left-sided neck pain. I finally had a cervical MRI, which showed pretty bad cord compression on the left side of C6-C7. (I have multiple issues in the levels above that as well, but these were not bad enough for intervention.) I had also had some other issues and muscle weakness in my left arm, so I had a fusion at that level. After the surgery, my dizziness was better and the tilting sensations when I lied on my side went away.
Over the next few months, the dizziness continued to get worse. I had an injection into C2 in my neck in January or February. I remember the doctor telling me at the time she was going to turn the needle and shoot some of the medication at the occipital nerve since it runs through c2. The dizziness was worse for a couple of days after the injection, but other than that my symptoms did not change. Until… about 5 or 6 weeks later, the dizziness (and head pressure) remarkably just faded into the background. I had been told the steroids would take a couple of days to a couple of weeks to work, so I figured the injection had nothing to do with my improvement due to the amount of time that passed.
I felt overall pretty well for three months, and I was so excited to get back my life. In mid-June, out of the blue, the head pressure came back worse than it ever has been. A couple days later, the dizziness was the worst I’ve ever experienced. This has been going on now for over a month.
I did some research and looked at the dermatome map of where my strange head sensations are located. They are in the pathway of the occipital nerve. I also saw some research linking occipital neuritis with dizziness and tinnitus due to the close proximity of the nerves in the c2 area. The most common reason for occipital neuritis is an injury to the back of the head or a whiplash injury or repetitive neck motions (like my sit-ups?) I further read that occipital neuritis symptoms are worse when lying down. (Now, I’m wondering if my temporary improvement after my c6-7 fusion was because I slept upright in a recliner with a cervical collar for the first month.)
I don’t have light sensitivity, but I read that pressure behind the eye (which I have) and light sensitivity can be caused by occipital neuritis.
Anyway, I have a preliminary appointment tomorrow to see the pain management doctor who says he’s going to try to do the c2 injection on Friday. He’s a colleague of my husband, and when they spoke, the doctor was very familiar between the relationship with damage to the occipital nerve and dizziness.
I don’t want to get my hopes up too high that I finally have an answer, but everything sure makes sense. I read that migraine pain and occipital neuralgia pain can be difficult to differentiate, so I posted this information in case anyone here is interested. Even if I feel better after the injection, I’m not sure this is a long-term answer to my problems. I will be sure to post and provide follow-up as to if the injection helps in a month or two…