At the age of 19, I was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease. What is Meniere’s, you ask? Let’s just say it’s not fun. In a nutshell, it’s an autoimmune condition that is characterized by four main symptoms: fullness or pressure in the ears, ringing in the ears, loss of hearing especially in the lower frequencies, and periods of dizziness/vertigo. It is idiopathic meaning there isn’t a distinct cause though inflammation is a key component as is common with many present day diseases. The 2nd semester of my freshman college year was marked with spells of vertigo where the room would, without warning, start spinning violently for a few minutes. After the spinning subsided, I was left tired and unable to think straight which led inevitably to a nice three hour nap sometimes skipping classes so I could recover from an episode. This happened at least twice a week. There were many times I walked back from a class stumbling slightly and grabbing onto any wall or rail that I could for some sense of balance. I’m certain everyone thought I was drunk. Really, if you don’t have Meniere’s, that’s the most similar feeling I can equate it to: the spinning, off balance, and nausea you get from having WAY too many beverages. I found a kind doctor who, after other tests to rule out tumors and other more serious concerns, diagnosed me with Meniere’s disease in my left ear. I was given a diuretic to take daily and told to limit salt intake, caffeine and alcohol. This regimen worked pretty well for the following ten years to limit vertigo to about twice a year (all of which were induced by me not following the rules and either overindulging in salt or alcohol). My hearing however, gradually diminished in my left ear to about 50% meaning I can only hear really loud things on that side and am unable to distinguish most words on that side. It remains at that level currently.
When I was 28, I delivered our first child. Within a month (which also happened to be in the spring), I started having severe congestion on a day to day basis, ringing in my good ear and shifts in hearing in both ears. My pregnancy and birth of our second child resulted in a slight escalation of these symptoms wherein I started to feel that I could not always hear the conversation at work meetings, had high levels of fatigue, and ultimately, I quit working partly because I felt I wasn’t functioning as well at work and it was slightly embarrassing. Luckily, it had been my desire to stay home with my two kids anyway so it was a convenient time to stop working. Shortly after staying home full time, I discovered my uptick in symptoms was directly related to the spring and fall seasons and tested positive for a number of seasonal allergies which I never had suffered from until having children.
At this point, I started immunotherapy and chiropractic in hopes of correcting my seasonal allergies. I was also taking a number of medications for my allergies and a prescription for the Meniere’s to lower pressure in my ear. I had switched my ENT doctor while I was pregnant with my third (and final!) child and my new doc was amazing. He was young and understood my desires to integrate conventional medical expertise and to experiment with alternative options. I needed to try anything and everything (within reason, of course). I was convinced that I was “going bi” meaning that my Meniere’s was bilateral, becoming symptomatic in both ears since my good ear had begun having fluctuations in hearing. I had a small ray of sunshine however as my ENT was not as convinced that this was happening and thought this could be just triggered by allergies or another trigger that could potentially be controlled. As a temporary help, he performed a myringotomy and placed tubes in my ears. It was a lifesaver and stopped the major episodes of vertigo while I was pregnant. We postponed any further testing/treatment experiments until baby 3 had arrived.
After the birth of our third child, I’ve struggled with more severe seasonal allergies and the Meniere’s disease which I’ve had since I was a teenager also dramatically increased in intensity. I also developed a food sensitivity to soft dairy. I felt like my body was completely broken. My right ear now also was ringing full time and occasionally had pressure. Hearing tests indicated my good ear was experiencing sensorineural hearing loss as well which may not be reversible or even aidable with hearing aids. I was suddenly very fearful that I would be functionally deaf within the next decade and need to learn sign language. To top that off, I felt mildly off balance nearly every day similar to the feeling of walking on a boat. I also had an increase in vertigo that caused room spinning and left me laying down for many hours afterwards. I didn’t feel comfortable driving distances and limited myself (on days I felt reasonably good) to driving only a few miles away for essential errands only. I felt I had lost much independence and often had to ask my husband to run errands since I didn’t feel well enough to drive on many days. I couldn’t live like that. I had children to take care of and a life to reclaim.
Good news came to me after suffering through a test called a VNG – short for Videonystagmography. And yes, though worth it, it was horrible and I never want to take that again. This test gauges how well your eyes and ears work together to determine the level of balance function that remains in your vestibular system. Luckily for me, the result was in the normal range. Barely, but still considered normal. With this result, it means no serious surgeries would be recommended and my ENT was hopeful that we could combine conventional and alternative therapies to maintain my current level of functioning. My hope was and is, of course, to improve it. I was suddenly highly motivated and determined to find answers and a way to heal from this.
My answers resulting in a slow and steady healing of Meniere’s disease have come about in many forms. I discovered early on that I had severe allergies that were triggering Meniere’s symptoms which is highly common among those of us with Meniere’s. I continued hearing about healthy clean eating from specialists I encountered. My chiropractor continued asking me about what I was eating these days and talked about the idea of clean eating. I just wasn’t ready for it. My allergist had many times talked about the importance of probiotics and hinted at the possibility of food sensitivities and urged me to do a food elimination challenge. Again, I wasn’t ready for it. The acupuncturist that I enlisted for help with my sinuses gave me a handout regarding foods that cleanse the body and were aimed at healing my particular symptoms. I wasn’t ready for it. I had one foot in the door of a conventional mindset wanting a drug to solve my problems and one foot in the alternative therapies mindset which almost always includes dietary modifications relevant to your own personal needs. At that time I was taking three different prescriptions for my allergies which still weren’t solving the issue and taking one additional prescription specifically for Meniere’s disease. I simply couldn’t fathom the fact that what I was eating, just might be what was causing new allergies to develop and exacerbating existing issues. I sought out the help of a naturopathic doctor during this time and also experimented with a number of other natural therapies. I was finally convinced that I need to try modifying what I ate after my visit with the naturopathic doctor. The ND, like my allergist, agreed that I REALLY needed to try an elimination diet for a month to see if there were any obvious food allergies and she put me on a mild cleanse with the addition of probiotics. I agreed to try it. Just for one month.
That month seemed unending. It was a serious hard core elimination. No gluten. No dairy. No alcohol. No nuts. No eggs. No soy. No beef. No pork. Limited fruits. Limited sugars. Seriously… what on God’s green earth was I supposed to eat?!?!? Oh riiiiight. Greens. Lots of veggies (whine…. But I HATE veggies!!!). Lots of poultry and fish or other non-beef/pork meats. Good thing my husband is a hunter so I did have some venison in the freezer for variation. At least non-gluten grains were also on the okay list of things to eat. I must admit, the first week was the hardest. I had severe cravings for dairy and sugary things. I really wanted my nightly glass of wine. All in all, I made it. After a full month of eating this way, I had detoxed my body of many cravings, and readjusted my sweet tooth and ultimately, was feeling really pretty darn good. I didn’t have any brain fog, the ringing in my ears had subsided to barely noticeable, I felt much thinner though I hadn’t really lost much weight, and most importantly I wasn’t dizzy. I had been mildly dizzy or off balance nearly every day for the past year so this alone had convinced me that maybe, just maybe there was something to this eating healthier thing.
The last part of the elimination challenge was to re-introduce each of the foods that were eliminated one by one with at least 3 days between the introduction of the next. By doing so, I discovered there was most certainly a link between dairy and an increase in allergy and Meniere’s symptoms. Gluten was questionable so I didn’t really eliminate it completely. The other food items seemed to be fine. I eventually read a number of studies that indicate that people with Meniere’s disease are often affected by gluten (or other food sensitivities). I had also read a number of studies that indicate persons who have a sensitivity to dairy are highly likely to also be sensitive to gluten. After further research, I decided that eating clean and eating significantly less gluten and dairy (if any) was the best solution for me. So here I am, eating clean and healing one plate at a time.
Today, now 3 years later and two years after committing to eating clean, I am slowing healing. I no longer feel like I’m walking on a boat every day and feel capable of driving much more often and have gained back my independence. The major vertigo has all but disappeared and my hearing has improved greatly in my good ear and is more stable so I feel much more confident talking on the phone and no longer miss half the conversation. I feel like a better wife and mother. I’ve been able to discontinue using all drugs for both Meniere’s and my allergies except for on a very occasional basis. Check out my natural solutions for Meniere’s page and natural solutions for allergies page to learn what worked for me. I sincerely hope that my learnings and struggles can help you heal too.