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Woman’s Stroke Mistaken for Ear Infection After Dizziness, Tingling


  • Danielle Lance, 34, had a stroke in January 2022 after fighting a double ear infection.
  • Doctors thought her dizziness was caused by the ear infection — until her right side went numb.
  • Loss of balance, facial drooping, and arm numbness may signal a possible stroke.

Danielle Lance, a paramedic and mother of four, was recovering from a painful double ear infection when her symptoms took a turn for the worse.

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

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

Signs of stroke may include a 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 that it’s time to call 911, completing the stroke signs acronym, “BE FAST.”

Stroke symptoms may not always be obvious, as ear infections share some common symptoms. Dizziness, vertigo, and nausea may occur due to stroke, ear infection, or a host of other ailments, according to WakeMed. 

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

She was numb on one side and had trouble walking

After waking up ill that morning in January, 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 already knew about.

The next morning, Lance said she could not move her right side. She returned to the ER, this time at WakeMed’s Raleigh campus, and was admitted with help from hospital staff.

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

Strokes can happen when a blood clot travels to the brain from somewhere else in the body, or due to spontaneous brain bleeding, 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 physical therapy

Within an hour, Lance was brought into surgery to stop the stroke. Doctors removed a blood clot from her brain, which is just one way strokes are treated.

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

The young mom needed a month and a half of speech, occupational, and physical therapy to recover. According to WakeMed, Lance was able to return to work in July — a month earlier than expected — due to her speedy progress.

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

Still, Lance said she’s grateful to be back at work and keeping up with her family.


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