Karrie Aitkens lived a typical life as a mother in California. That is, until one day lets from normal, everyday life turns into pure torture for the middle-aged mother.
Aitkens woke up one morning with a strange sensation in left ear and chronic dizziness, according to a mention of her story in Reader's Digest. Her strange symptoms led to several trips to the ER, general practitioners and several ENT specialists. Still, no one could figure out the problem.
Meanwhile, another scary symptom emerged. Aitken's own heartbeat drummed in his ear so loudly that it drowned out many sounds, including television, Aitkens said in an article published at UCLA Health.
She had to take anxiety pills to calm down, Aitkens told UCLA. She also began to suffer from depression and anxiety, and lost 40 pounds in the weeks since symptoms began.
Aitkens, normally a relaxed person, knew that these symptoms did not make sense.
"It was really torture," she told Everyday Health.
Finally, a doctor recommended that Karrie see another ear specialist, Dr. Quinton Gopen of the UCLA School of Medicine.
Gopen is an expert on head and neck surgery, and he immediately suspected the cause of Aitken's symptoms, according to a report from UCLA Health. The doctor confirmed his suspicions with a CT scan, where both doctor and patient could see a miniscule open in the bone that surrounds the inner ear.
Aitken's condition is actually quite new and very rare. It is known as Superior Semicircular Canal Dehiscence (SSCD) and is such a new disorder that it was first identified in 1998, according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD).
The disorder is caused by thinning or the absence of the bone on top of the inner ear, says NORD. This bone is supposed to be thickened after birth when a person matures.
But if this does not happen, the bone can develop an abnormal third hole in it, according to a UCLA Health report on the condition. One of SSCD's ear tags is a phenomenon where patients hear sounds from their bodies amplified. These can include heartbeats, digestive sounds and even eye movement.
Although the inner ear normally has two openings in the bony structure surrounding it, SSCD patients develop a third hole, according to UCLA Health. That hole can cause balance problems, hearing loss and dizziness among other symptoms.
After determining the problem, Gopen and a cooperating neurosurgeon performed an operation to fill the hole through a section above Aitken's ear, Reader's Digest reports his story of Aitken's story. But to do that, the surgeon literally has to push the brain out of the way to reach the hole. Despite this, the operation proved successful, which helped Aitkens to return to his normal life.
About 1-2 percent of the population has this miniscule hole in the inner ear, according to NORD. But not everyone develops symptoms, and those who do so often develop them later in life. Many also begin to experience symptoms after suffering from some form of head trauma or pressure, such as traveling on an airplane or diving, says NORD.
But Gopen told Reader's Digest that "the surgery is considered a cure." And so it seemed to be for Aitkens, who recovered from the ordeal without hearing the frightening heart pounding anymore.