By Haley Walker
“Looks like you have Ménière’s disease,” my doctor said. My heart skipped a beat. What does that mean? What on earth is that? Over the next couple of months I had various hearing tests done, and met with an ear, nose, and throat doctor. It was a lot to take in.
At first I was just glad to have an answer to my problems. A name, a label, an explanation—and to know I am not going crazy. But after that I began to feel worried. Ultimately my diagnosis meant progressive hearing loss; not only did I need hearing aids for moderate hearing loss, my hearing could get worse.
Ménière’s also means I have to follow a low-salt diet. I can’t eat more than 1.5 grams a day of sodium. That’s about a third of a teaspoon. No fast food, no processed food, no added salt.
Ménière’s disease is a disorder that causes abnormal fluid retention in the inner ear, leading to balance problems, hearing loss, and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Typically, it only affects one ear but lucky me—I have it in both. My doctor was very surprised and said it's quite rare, but as I researched the condition I found a lot of people have it in both ears. That made me feel a bit better.
The truth is it took over a year to finally get this diagnosis of Ménière’s. If I really think about it, I started having disabling dizzy spells that caused vomiting and nausea when I was in high school, at age 16 or 17. (I am 20 now.) My family and I wrote them off as anxiety attacks and dealt with them as they came.
I remember trying to walk home up a hill behind the school one day and literally falling on my face because I couldn’t walk straight. Mmmmm dirt… yummy. I stumbled home and laid down on the floor in our living room crying. I couldn’t get a grip on myself. What is happening to me? Anxiety definitely played a part, but I now know there was a more pieces to the puzzle.
I am now treating Ménière’s by following my low-sodium diet, wearing my hearing aids, and taking a diuretic—a medication that helps to control the abnormal fluid retention in my ears. (This is why limiting salt also helps—salt makes you retain water.) It was incredible when I first got my hearing aids. Everything I had been missing I could suddenly hear! I now can enjoy the little things like the birds singing outside my window in the morning. When the tinnitus gets really bad I put on background white noise, like the sound of the ocean or rain falling. And when the dizzy spells hit, I do the only thing I really can, sit or lay down, and close my eyes waiting for it to pass.
If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with Ménière’s, don’t worry—it's not the end of the world! You learn to cope and manage your flare-ups, and hearing aids are amazing. I cried tears of joy the first time I listened to music after I got them.
The important thing to remember is that you aren’t alone! There are others out there with Ménière’s. Join a group on Facebook or start your own. Talking to others who understand what it's like and what you are going through helps so much. Look at celebrities, like Katie Leclerc, who are dealing with it every day and rocking it.
And lastly, take care of yourself. On bad days, pace yourself and do what you need to do to feel better. Always remember, “This too shall pass.”