Monday, May 17, 2021

Panic Attacks While Driving? Consider Vertical Heterophoria

Back in the Spring, I began having horrible panic attacks while I was driving.  It began one day at the traffic light near my daughter's high school.  

I was stopped at a red light, and grabbed my phone to check my text messages.  When I looked back up, my world was spinning.  I mean everything was dizzy.  I began to totally freak out.  I wanted to scream and run.  I wanted out -- and quickly. I began sweating, getting numb from head to toe, and nauseated. 

Finally the light turned green and I was able to drive away.  As I pulled into her school parking lot, I grabbed a half of Xanax.  (Sadly I had nothing to drink so had to swallow it dry!).  She got in the car, and I kept telling myself that all was good.  I had to drive another five miles to pick up my son.  

Things seemed okay...until I hit another red light.  Same thing happened.  I began to freak out as everything got dizzy.  This time, I switched lanes and got out quickly without having to stop at the traffic light. 

Now I had one other incident like this last summer (roughly seven months before). I was driving at 75mph on the Turnpike and felt "freaked out".  No other word to describe.  Back at that time, my doctor suggested anxiety medication.  I saw her again after the school pick-up incident and was again told "anxiety".

Now I am one of those people who likes to google anything and everything.  I have had panic attacks in the past -- years ago -- by why were these only happening while I was driving (or at stop lights!)??  One night I happened to search "panic attacks while driving" and came across a web site that totally changed my life!!

I learned about something called Vertical Heterophoria, a binocular vision dysfunction. .  Some people are born with it, but most get it after a stroke or brain trauma.  DING DING.  Three years ago, I was diagnosed with Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, a rare form of shingles.  And today, I am still suffering with facial paralysis. Could this be it!?!

I called my primary care the next morning and we both agreed this was a huge possibility.  I began searching for a neuro-ophthalmologist and found one nearby.  (Ironically he mostly works with pediatric patients but agreed to see me.)

After a three week wait, I was seen. (Side note, neither the Neuro-ophthalmologist nor his assistant had EVER heard of Ramsay Hunt Syndrome--yup it's that rare!) .  After a two hour exam, which included "test glasses" (yes I looked like a minion, haha), I was given the diagnosis of vertical heterophoria.  I now wear prism glasses during all waking hours.

Four weeks later, I have had ZERO panic attacks.  My vision is better than ever.  Now as a disclaimer I am not a medical professional.  If you are having panic attacks while driving, it may be worth a visit to the eye doctor.  You never know!