Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. I am just a mom searching for a good night’s sleep.
A little over two years ago I began waking up in the middle of the night with severe ear pain.
It started out just once a night, once in a while, in only one ear. I thought that I somehow slept on it wrong, the way you justify a kink in your neck. Maybe it was my then three-year-old climbing in bed with me and requiring I hold her the entire time.
But then once in a while turned into a few times a month, and then a few times a week and then multiple times a night. The pain no longer contained itself to one ear, but pulsed in both to a screaming beat.
Maybe it was an inner ear infection. Maybe it was an outer ear infection. According to WebMD, it was possibly a ruptured eardrum or more likely a malignant tumor. I even convinced myself I was that unfortunate medical urban legend where a spider or a cockroach laid eggs in my ears and the eggs hatch in the middle of the night.
I even considered that I was making the entire thing up in my sleep.
But as the months wore on, I began sleeping in hour increments due to waking up in pain. Unable to find relief, it would take an hour to get back to sleep only to wake up shortly after in pain again. Incapable of breaking this viscous cycle, I finally made an appointment with an ENT.
Multiple tests and instruments put up my nose, in my ears and down my throat, they shrugged and said they never heard of anyone complaining of severe ear pain that did not have an infection or blockage. Disheartened, I left thinking perhaps it was all in my head.
More time went by and holding a conversation became difficult because I was so tired. I was impatient with my kids, my memory was non-existent, my focus lasted all of five minutes and my anxiety peaked to an all-time high.
Desperate and feeling like the walking dead, I made an appointment with an integrative medicine physician whom I had seen previously but stopped due to it being financially constrictive. It would turn out to be an investment that saved my life.
After running blood work to include a hormone panel, she noticed that my estrogen level was twice where it needed to be and my progesterone level was virtually non-existent.
Guess what progesterone helps regulate?
Sleep. Beautiful, glorious, uninhibited sleep.
My doctor explained that low progesterone can bring about anxiety and restlessness, and trouble sleeping – including a tendency to wake frequently during the night. Therefore, because my body was not able to rest and over-stressed, it caused me to unconsciously clench my jaw at night (a form of TMJ) which would tighten the muscle and ultimately radiate to my ears, causing severe pain.
After over two years of feeling like I was going crazy, I finally had an answer.
I broke down while sitting in that sterile white exam room with the protective paper crackling beneath me. As if she wasn’t already my savior, my doctor pushed back her other appointments and let me cry.
We developed a plan of natural sleep aids until the progesterone supplements regulated in my body. If I wasn’t feeling better by my next appointment in a month then we create a new plan of action.
I went home and had my first full night’s sleep in years. I’m happy to say, a year later that is still the case. I will still occasionally wake up with ear pain, but I can link it to a stressful day at work or hectic time of year, causing my jaw to clench while I dream. A mouthguard to stop my jaw from clenching is most likely in my future. Hopefully, it will look cooler than the one I wore in seventh grade.
I am able to focus and remember things and have energy to play with my kids and do all the things that make me happy. I have my life back.
I tell you this bedtime story because, more often than not, when I’m explaining my tale to another woman they exclaim, “that’s me! I cannot remember the last time I got a good night’s sleep!”
Talk to your OB/GYN. Ask them to run a hormone panel to see if something is off. If they don’t listen, ask your internal medicine doctor. If you must, invest in your health and see an integrative medicine physician (some take insurance, but unfortunately, most do not). Sleep is as basic a necessity as water. Hormone levels need to be given more consideration in women’s health.
I believe you. I was you. You are not crazy. You just need sleep.