A woman from Denver whom I met on a plane told me that she had had dizzy spells off and on for a couple of years. She’d be walking down the street, for example, when suddenly her head would start to spin. She’d begun to worry that she might have a brain tumour. But a thorough neurological exam, including a brain scan, failed to detect one.
An allergist eventually discovered that the woman was allergic to yeasts and moulds in foods – cheese, wine, mushrooms and so forth – and that they were the cause of her dizzy spells.
The woman told me that she still eats an occasional piece of cheese or drinks some wine at parties, but not very often and not very much. The biggest relief, she said, comes from knowing that she doesn’t have a brain tumour or some other life-threatening illness.
Dizzy spells can be pretty scary. So when a controllable cause is uncovered, doctor and patient alike are relieved. Allergy, however, is rarely suspected. And allergic causes are rare – but they exist. Dizziness from allergy to foods or inhalants results when they cause fluid retention in the inner ear that throws equilibrium off balance. You feel faint, or have the sense that you’re going to fall.
The allergen can be anything from an easy-to-avoid food to a hard-to-avoid chemical. Marshall Mandell, an allergist in Norwalk, Connecticut, tells of a ten-year-old girl who became quite dizzy when leaving the kitchen to walk to school every morning. (The kitchen had a gas stove.) She also became dizzy and nauseous in school every time freshly printed papers were passed around in class or when she was in the same room with a mimeograph machine. When Dr Mandell tested her for allergy to ethanol (a petroleum product in gas and copying fluid) and other environmental substances, the girl became very ill.
At Dr Mandell’s suggestion, the girl’s parents then replaced all gas appliances in the home with electric models and discarded any household cleaning materials that contained petroleum byproducts.
‘This environmental change was of considerable benefit,’ says Dr Mandell. ‘[The girl's] morning dizziness disappeared along with her fatigue’ (Dr Mandell’s 5-Day Allergy Relief System).