Woman’s stroke mistaken for ear infection after dizziness, tingling

  • Danielle Lance, 34, had a stroke in January 2022 after battling a double ear infection.
  • Doctors thought her dizziness was caused by the ear infection – until her right side went numb.
  • Loss of balance, drooping of the face, and numbness of the arms can signal a possible stroke.

Danielle Lance, a paramedic and mother of four, was recovering from a painful double ear infection when her symptoms worsened.

The 34-year-old woke up dizzy after a long shift in late January, according to WakeMed Voices, a blog associated with the hospital system based in Raleigh, North Carolina.

This dizzy feeling persisted the next day, when Lance woke up unable to move her right side. At WakeMed’s emergency department, she felt weak and had difficulty speaking. Soon, a triage nurse recognized the signs of a possible stroke.

Signs of stroke can include sudden loss of balance or coordination, eye or vision changes, facial drooping, arm numbness or weakness, and slurred speech. Any of these symptoms should indicate it’s time to call 911, complementing the acronym for stroke signs, “BE FAST.”

Symptoms of a stroke are not always obvious, as ear infections share some common symptoms. Dizziness, vertigo, and nausea can occur due to stroke, ear infection, or a host of other conditions, according to WakeMed.

However, quickly diagnosing and treating a stroke can make a huge difference in a patient’s eventual recovery.

She was numb on one side and had trouble walking

After waking up sick that January morning, Lance said she continued to feel dizzy all day. Soon her right side was tingling and she was having trouble walking. Her husband took her to a nearby emergency department, where doctors sent her home with a diagnosis of a cold and an ear infection – which she was already aware of.

The next morning, Lance said she couldn’t move her right side. She returned to the emergency room, this time at WakeMed’s Raleigh campus, and was admitted with the help of hospital staff.

When a nurse recognized that Lance’s symptoms could be a stroke, the care team stepped in to diagnose and treat the victim. They ordered a CT scan and quickly diagnosed him with an ischemic stroke, which occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted.

Strokes can occur when a blood clot travels to the brain from another location in the body or due to spontaneous bleeding from the brain, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Risk factors for stroke include high blood pressure, heart disease, smoking, and taking certain medications, such as birth control pills.

She recovered well with physiotherapy

Within an hour, Lance had surgery to stop the stroke. Doctors removed a blood clot from his brain, which is just one way to treat strokes.

In other cases, a stroke can be treated with blood-thinning medication, or the offending clot may pass on its own.

The young mother needed a month and a half of speech therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy to recover. According to WakeMed, Lance was able to return to work in July – a month earlier than expected – thanks to his rapid progress.

She said her right arm, which was paralyzed by the stroke, is still a bit weak compared to the left. She sometimes has trouble opening and carrying objects, and her speech and short-term memory aren’t what they were before the stroke, she added.

Still, Lance said she was grateful to be back at work and following her family.

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