In early 2007, when John of Manchester slipped on the ice while working and hit his head and shoulder, he was taken to the Emergency Department, treated for a concussion, and released.
But John continued to suffer persistent dizziness.
“I had these vertigo spells and couldn’t walk straight,” says John. “Rooms would move, and if I tried to watch TV I’d get seasick.” When another emergency visit and a full check-up by a neurologist still didn’t reveal the problem, John decided to seek the help of Thomas E. Brandeisky, D.O.
Dr. Brandeisky stated that John had a fistula, which occurs when the stirrup bone in the fluid-filled inner ear pushes through the small, thin membranes that separate the inner from the middle ear. This results in a leakage of fluid, causing a pressure change in the inner ear and problems with equilibrium. “We see problems like John’s following head trauma, or even after someone has lifted something too heavy,” says Dr. Brandeisky.
Although uncommon, the condition can lead to permanent hearing loss or an infection, such as meningitis, if left untreated.
“The test for a fistula entails recording eye movements while pressurizing the ear canal with a small rubber bulb,” explains Hugh Ferguson, M.A., CCC-A, an audiologist at Ear, Nose, Throat & Facial Plastic Surgery Associates.
According to John, as soon as Mr. Ferguson administered the test to his right ear, he almost fell off his chair. “It felt like someone had slapped me,” says John.
Due to the risk for permanent hearing loss and possible meningitis, John was scheduled to undergo surgery the very afternoon he was diagnosed. The corrective procedure performed by Dr. Brandeisky involved a middle ear exploration, followed by a fat graft to seal the leak. The tissue was taken from John’s earlobe.
After the surgery, there was an immediate improvement in John’s vertigo. “His hearing was preserved in the normal range, but unfortunately his tinnitus, a ringing noise in the ear, has persisted,” says Dr. Brandeisky.
Looking back on his experience, John feels very lucky. “Dr. Brandeisky was very patient and spent a lot of time explaining everything to me and my family,” he says. “I really appreciate him recommending the surgery be done immediately, and I realize now how serious things could have gotten.”