The expression “rock your world” was coined by the actor Jamie Foxx when he was a character actor in the role of Wanda on In Living Color, long before he became an Oscar winner for the movie Ray. Well having my world rocked is exactly what happened when after four months of dizziness, ringing and roaring in the ears, extreme ear pressure and fullness of the ears, imbalance, nausea, and three falls as a direct result of vertigo attacks (a sensation of movement when there is no movement), I finally got the diagnosis that I would need to begin a treatment plan for what physicians were certain was Meniere’s Disease.
Meniere’s Disease also called idiopathic endolymphatic hydrops is a disorder of the inner ear. Very difficult to diagnose, to date the cause of the disease is unknown contributing to the treatment of Meniere’s Disease to be even more difficult. Theory is that the probable cause is from an abnormality in the fluids of the inner ear. Usually only one ear is involved though in my case both ears were involved. Statistically this disease starts between the ages of 20 and 50 years of age. Men and women are affected in equal numbers. Treatment for Meniere’s Disease is done somewhat on an experimental based on an individuals’ previous medical condition and their current state of health and symptoms.
People diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease experience vertigo that lasts anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours or longer, sometimes days. When experiencing these attacks, one is unable to perform activities that are otherwise normal to work or home life. Usually following an attack sleepiness follows for hours. Intermittent hearing loss also occurs early in the disease and though hearing loss occurs, the ears do become particularly sensitive to loud sounds. The fullness and ringing in the ears comes and goes intermittently. At this point in the illness treatment for Meniere’s Disease is focused on stabilizing the patients’ balance and eliminating any pain and discomfort associated with the condition.
My doctors were very honest throughout this process in telling me that treatment for Meniere’s Disease is an ongoing experimental process. The process would begin with conservative treatment before considering surgery as a last and final alternative. After unsuccessfully having tried conservative treatment with drugs to attack viral and bacterial infections including a battery of steroids, diuretics, anti-vertigo medications, and high blood pressure medications, the next step was to schedule an audiometric examination with an Otolaryngologist. This particular test would show mild hearing loss and extreme negative pressure in both ears. Having established a base line, this procedure was done on each visit to determine if there was any further hearing loss. Further treatment with steroids and diuretics was continued however there was no improvement. I was then referred to another doctor who performed an ENG to evaluate balance function. This test would show permanent balance damage to the right ear. I was then sent for an MRI to insure there were no neurological problems. The MRI was negative. This doctor then referred me to another special at U.C.S.D. Medical Center where the Balance Center is located. Doctors at this location are the local experts in the field. He too wanted to continue along a conservative path and so we experimented with several medications and a restrictive salt intake diet combined with exercise and a controlled diet.
Being proactive, I changed my diet completely. I removed all salt and eliminated all fast and processed foods. I at that point was taking only Hydrochlorothiazide (a diuretic) and Klor-Con M20 Tabs to supplement my potassium. I had even learned to stabilize when an attacks occurs to focus on one thing, to stare continuously until the balance was regained. Improvement wise things progressed moderately. Where the vertigo attacks occurred every day several times a day, they eventually started to decrease in numbers. I continued with a diet high in fiber and protein, fresh fruits and vegetables, no red meat, no pork, no fast foods and no caffeine. I was becoming satisfied with my progress and keeping a journal to chart the increase or decrease in attacks, and then it happened. As I got ready to go to bed one night, a vertigo attack came on as I was getting up from the sofa to go to bed causing me to lose my balance. I tried to catch myself but when you experience vertigo you have no control. After it was over, there was blood everywhere. In trying to catch myself I had stabbed myself in my leg with my fingernail. After having made progress the way that I had, this was frustrating and depressing leaving me with feelings of helplessness.
The next week I saw my doctor. It was explained to me that there was a procedure that I could try that had been successful for some patients being treated for Meniere’s Disease. Again the procedure was experimental. Since the permanent balance damage was in the left ear, a surgeon could go in and puncture the eardrum several times, and inject Prednisone. It would be a few weeks before I would experience some relief but it would be worth it, or so I was told. I agreed that moment on the spot, and it was done that day — while I was awake. Since I had driven myself, with the exception of the Lidocaine injection in my eardrum, they would not be able to administer any pain medication. The pain I experienced the hours following the surgery, the next few days and weeks was excruciating. I swore off any further procedures or surgeries. Eventually things did improve. This procedure in actuality relieved a lot of the pressure issues I had in my ears. The vertigo attacks are not as frequent, however I am very regimented in terms of my routine. I am now only taking the diuretics and the potassium supplements. Rigorous exercise is recommended to eliminate the body of excess fluids, so I run daily. To calm myself from the agitation associated with the disease (it’s hard to ignore ringing and roaring in your ears) I practice Yoga and Pilate’s and I meditate daily. I am on a very strict diet that is low carbohydrate, high protein, fresh fruits and vegetables, oatmeal daily, lots of fluid, and no caffeine.
As a result of Meniere’s Disease I have had to curtail my driving to a minimum so as not to injure others. It is the responsible thing to do. I don’t swim as it could jeopardize my safety. I listen and pay attention to all signals my body sends. Vertigo attacks usually give a signal. The ears ring, and then they become full, afterward all control is lost until the attack ceases. I have learned by exerting control in the areas that I can and in being responsible and proactive for my health. By approaching it in this manner I am able to eliminate a lot of the negativity associated with the disease. I have been told unless the vertigo attacks become more severe I will not have to have further procedures done. Should it become further disabling, surgery at that point would be recommended. Based on research it has been determined that even though necessary, most of the surgeries are considered destructive. My hope is that this is not a path I will have to take in the future. I do however plan to continue to be proactive in doing my part to keep my health stabilized. One way of doing so is by being active in several Meniere’s Disease support groups to get feedback from others with the same diagnosis. If you suspect you are suffering from Meniere’s Disease or other balance related conditions, contact your physician to determine the best course of treatment for your situation. Acknowledging there is a problem, and making an appointment to see your physician are the first steps to recovery, so don’t wait.