Monday, September 1, 2008

What the heck is Ménière’s (or “what did you say?”)

Wouldn’t you just know it would happen but about one month before I (Kurt) was scheduled to retire April 2007, the hearing in my right ear begin to act up. 

First, it felt the way an ear gets when you’ve been swimming and water has clogged the ear canal. Next, I heard a continual ringing of moderate volume (tinnitus).  Not surprising, the hearing acuity in my right ear was reduced dramatically.  To top it off, I had several episodes of vertigo lasting 10-30 minutes.

After a visit to my family physician and determining that it wasn’t likely some terrible disease, I decided to see how the symptoms progressed.  I had had a similar experience four years previous and after 3 or 4 months the symptoms disappeared.  I hoped for the same.

Unfortunately, by Fall 2007 the symptoms seemed no better and vertigo episodes increased.  A visit to a specialist was in order.

HeadLinesAfter a battery of tests to rule out other conditions, I was diagnosed with Ménière’s Disease (NIH description). Fortunately, in my case it is more of a nuisance condition than a severe affliction. However, I want to do whatever it takes to prevent its current unilateral nature (right ear only) in my situation from progressing to bilateral (i.e., afflicting both ears).

For cases in which the vertigo is infrequent and mild to moderate as in my case, the general treatment protocol is a low-salt diet (to reduce fluid retention) and a mild diuretic (again to deal with fluid retention).  Since sodium is the flavor crutch in most industrially processed foods and restaurants, we go out to dinner infrequently and the meals Marcia prepares are often from scratch rather than from the can or box. The side benefit of the diet is that I have lost about 15 pounds from my preretirement weight.

Besides the weight loss, my low salt diet serve as a convenient excuse for not accompanying Marcia on trips to the boatyard in China to check on construction progress.