Healthy Living

Hearing Problems? Mamie, Marilyn, Ludwig and Me

My new ear, nose and throat specialist thinks I’ve got something called Meniere’s Disease.

Here, for all of you hypochondriacs, are the symptoms:

Fullness in one ear

Tinnitus (ringing ears)


And occasionally? Migraines.

I’ve had ringing ears for decades, but Doctor Smith doesn’t think this is connected. This, apparently,  is a brand new reason for my ears to ring.

Although we can’t be sure.

Meniere’s is one of the many things the medical profession doesn’t fully understand.

So what does this diagnosis mean?

Hearing loss!

Apparently I’m going to go deaf in my right ear even faster than I was genetically destined to go deaf in that ear.

My dad and my Aunt Freda lived to be 87 and 94, respectively. In his last decade, my father definitely needed his hearing aid  (although he continued to thrive as a psychoanalyst). And   Aunt Freda was deaf as a post.

Holiday dinners with the two of them weren‘t tranquil.  With dad, you had to SPEAK VERY LOUDLY.  When it came to Aunt Freda you had to holler at the top of your lungs. (And you never really knew if anything you said was getting through.)

I always figured that if I were lucky enough to live that long, I too would go deaf. Unless the medical profession came up with a Miracle Cure for Deafness.

I am not counting on this.

Why not? My ears have been steadily ringing for close to three decades, and they have yet to come up with a Miracle Cure for Tinnitus. Nor, for that matter, have they cured my endometriosis.

And they’ve had over a century to find a Miracle Cure for my brand new malady, which was discovered by a French doc named Prosper Meniere back in 1861.

I’ve apparently got a knack for coming down with chronic conditions that the medical profession can’t cure.

It could be worse, of course. While all of these conditions chip away at my quality of life and are deeply annoying, none of them is life-threatening. I’m sure that anybody with a cancer diagnosis would be happy to trade it in for what ails me.

I’m also in good company. Other folks who have (or are thought to have had) Meniere’s include Marilyn Monroe, Mamie Eisenhower, Beethoven, Goya, Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth and Charles Darwin.

Plus, there’s only a 10% chance that I’ll experience Meniere’s weirdest symptom — the Drop Attack. This is a sudden fall without loss of consciousness, which is said to feel like “being pushed sharply to the floor from behind.”

That’s all I need. Dizziness. Ringing ears.  Then — a pratfall.

I’ve already got some mild hearing loss, which I was totally unaware of until Dr. Ear ran some tests. (A tech played a series of beeping tones of varying pitch in my ears, and I had to hit a button when I first heard each of them, which, for somebody who likes to excel on tests, was incredibly nerve wracking.)

So what can I do about this? Nothing at all. I can’t take meds, or supplements, or change my lifestyle or diet. It’s just going to happen. All I can do is enjoy my (mildly compromised) hearing while I’ve still got it.

So if there’s anything you have to say to me? Better say it now, while I can still hear you.

photo credit: Dreamstime.com

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  • ellensue spicer-jacobson

    Good essay! I also have tinnitus, but mine is a hissing in my ears. Tried so many supplements and still no help. IF I find a cure, will let you know, loudly!

  • hillsmom

    Dear Roz, What a bummer! Thankfully you are able to cope with your usual dose of humor…better laugh than cry. I too have that tinnitus thingy, but it comes and goes. Sometimes I’ll realize that there is no ringing. Go figure. I wonder if some sort of alternative medicine would be of help? Acupuncture anybody? (A friend was able to stop smoking using “real medical” acupuncture.) Please keep us informed of your progress. Gussie =^..^= wants to know, also.

  • Shari Cohen Forsythe

    Roz, I do not have Meniere’s, but I do have a significant hearing loss. Hearing aids work well for me–right now–but my hearing is fading fast. I’m wondering if that is why we gravitate toward writing?

  • Carolann

    I know a few people with the same condition. They seem fine about it most of the time although I think the biggest complaint is the dizziness. They do get meds for that and it seems to help.

  • Kelly

    Well maybe you can use the diagnoses to get some sympathy or a perk every once and a while? Still annoying though!

  • Kate

    so sorry, Roz! Ironically, I was at the doc 2 days ago for hearing loss, too. I hope you’ll join me in using it to now say and do whatever you want, in flagrant disregard of social convention. “What’s that? You’re paying for my stay at the Waldorf? Thank you! No, it did not sound like you said ‘you’re stepping on my foot’, but that reminds me that I’ll need a massage too.” If your life has been stolen, why not finally tell that bragging friend her kids are total bores and her grandchildren remind you of Howard Taft and Yoda? And don’t forget next time you board a flight: take any seat in first class and don’t budge – it’s all you can do when everyone’s speaking gibberish.

  • Cheryl Nicholl

    Same thing runs in my family. I’m already needing whom ever is speaking to me to talk directly at me. If u turn your head I’m clueless. As you said it could be worse. As a matter of fact I can think of a lot of things I’d rather not hear so clearly. Good luck to both of us!

  • Tam Warner Minton

    You sound just like me…although I have this and that condition, none of them are life threatening. And yes, it is still annoying and painful. My mom had a hearing aid, and she wore it rarely and was always pissed off about it. Oh, and I had endometriosis as well. I had my uterus removed…that cured it!

  • Joan Leof

    Sorry to learn of your eerie diagnosis. And your other conditions. But if there’s anyone who is great at seeing the big picture, it’s you! and you only need your highly developed inner eye, NOT your ears, for that.

  • Joan Leof

    Sorry to hear about your eerie diagnosis. And your other conditions. BUT, if there’s anyone great at seeing the BIG PICTURE, it’s you, and you only need your inner eye, not ears, for that!

  • Judy McNamara Tripp (Meniere's Awareness Project)

    Meniere’s is no laughing matter you will soon learn ~

    Meniere’s disease steals lives, leaving those unable to function as they once did. Many sufferers are reduced to bystanders to their own existence, unable to work, drive, attend family gatherings, or simply play with their kids. Meniere’s causes dizziness, severe vertigo, tinnitus, sensitivity to light and sounds and other normal everyday activities. Meniere’s attacks leave their victims so dizzy and unable to walk or balance, with even the slightest movement bringing hours of nausea and vomiting. If that wasn’t enough, most Meniere’s sufferers develop hearing loss and many go completely deaf.

    In the research paper “Impact of Meniere’s Disease on Quality of Life” by the University of California at San Diego, researchers found that the quality of life of Meniere’s patients, while not actively experiencing vertigo, was comparable to adults with life-threatening illnesses such as cancer and AIDS. They further discovered that during periods of ‘acute vertigo’ their quality of life dropped to a point that Meniere’s sufferers were on par with non-institutionalized Alzheimer’s, Cancer and AIDS patients six days from death.

    Additionally, in a 2009 study on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) performed by Kirby, S.E. and Yardley, L. it was found that the incidence of (PTSD) and health anxiety is much higher than in non-sufferers. Nearly one in eight people with Ménière’s were found to meet the criteria for full PTSD, compared to the general population where just one in sixty has PTSD. Yet, Meniere’s remains relatively unknown worldwide and dramatically underfunded when it comes to crucial research dollars.

    • Andy

      Wow, Judy, that was an insensitive post. Let’s spell out the worst case scenario to see if we can increase anxiety. And as for the concept of “no laughing matter,” I reject it. Humor and laughter is a coping mechanism, often helpful even in the most dire situations.

      • Judy McNamara Tripp

        I am sorry if my post came off insensitive rather than factual as it was intended. MENIERE’S is an orphan disease that most people are completely unaware of how debilitating it really can be.

      • roz warren

        Thanks, Andy. Perhaps it wasn’t intended to, but Judy’s response terrified me. I really appreciate your pointing out that the bleak future she’s predicted for me may not actually come to pass.

  • Beth Havey

    Hi Roz, I thought I knew everything about Meniere’s, which I don’t have, but a recent episode of Doc Martin had
    the patient falling. I chalked it up to overdone, until I read your post. Drop attack. Thanks for enlightening me. Ears are precious parts of our bodies and in today’s world we do little to nothing to protect them. Loud noises abound and I have taken
    to having plugs when I go to musical events and at my age I have an excuse to skip rock concerts–that’s deafness on a platter, served with a smile. Great post.

  • Roxanne Jones

    Sorry this is happening to you, Roz. If there’s a glimmer of a silver lining, perhaps it’s that you can’t hear as clearly all the political B.S. that’s being thrown around these days. P.S. Don’t know if you’d be a candidate, but I recently wrote an article about cochlear implants–it may be an option for you down the road (and Medicare covers ’em).

  • shari Eberts

    Wearing hearing aids might help. I have tinnitus and when I wear my hearing aids, it is much less bothersome. A hearing aid can also help you stay connected if you think you are missing conversation or other social interactions. It won’t help with vertigo and those type of Meniere’s symptoms unfortunately. If you need help coping with your hearing loss, you can visit my blog http://www.livingwithhearingloss.com where I share my daily ups and downs living with hearing loss and tinnitus and provide tips. Wishing you lots of luck!

  • Carol Cassara

    Oh yeah. I’ve had that Dx. And the latest one with fullness of ears along with everything else was Atypical Cochlear Menieres about 7 years ago and then again 2 years ago. Big doses steroids fixed it, but they say it comes back. The ear doc didn’t offer you steroids?

    • roz warren

      My internist gave me steroids. While I was taking them, my symptoms went away. When I stopped, it came right back. The fact that my ear fullness responded to steroids is one of the reasons Dr. Smith thought it was probably Menieres.

  • Carla

    Sending so much love.
    I have a dear friend I met over 20 years ago and before we connected I had never heard of Meniere’s.
    For what it’s worth she is still doing great and hearing strong <3

  • Patricia Faust

    I too have Meniere’s disease. I have had it for a long time. Initially, I had to really keep my salt intake down. There is a balance between fluid levels in the inner ear that must be maintained. If it increases your vertigo increases, and nausea, and other inner ear related problems. Over the years my balance function became very – unbalanced. The vestibular system (ears, eyes, brain) was failing on my right side due to the Meniere’s. So I had the last resort surgery – vestibular nerve section (clip the vestibular nerve at the brain stem). As soon as that happened I had no balance function on the right side of my brain and 100% balance function on the left side of my brain. After much balance rehab and three years of practice, my left side keeps me upright. But the surgery did nothing for the fullness or the tinnitus. I wear a hearing aid in that right ear and do everything I can to keep that ear functioning as long as possible. Research on tinnitus is ongoing – they are looking at the brain. But I am very happy I can walk upright and not feel like I am going down. Life is good!

    • Judy McNamara Tripp

      Patricia, We who have this disease know how truly difficult it is to function on a daily basis and the treatment options are limited and lacking. I work each day to bring awareness for this disease and to increase research dollars. I hope you are regaining your health since the nerve section and wish you all the best. I sincetely hope the author will do a follow up article on the real Meniere’s to help us spread awareness together.

    • roz warren

      Patricia I am SO reassured to hear that life for you with Menieres is good, particularly since the purpose of at least one response to my essay seems to have been to scare me to death and make sure that I never again crack a smile. The last thing a newly diagnosed person needs to hear about any disease is YOUR FUTURE SUCKS. THANKS for giving me hope.

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