Karen Pashley (pictured) is a local author whose book Precious in His sight was published in 2016. She also suffers from Meniere’s Disease. “A somewhat rare, mysterious, progressive disease of the inner ear that affects how I hear, how I see, and how I function”. Here, she describes the problems it creates- and how a new initiative with Vanderbilt Medical Centerl hopes to offer help and advice to fellow sufferers.
Sudden attacks of spinning vertigo, nausea, fluctuating hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and a sensation of fullness in the ear — these are the hallmark symptoms of Meniere’s Disease.
Often an attack will occur without warning, and some people suffer drop attacks, their equilibrium so disrupted they are not able to right themselves before slamming into the floor. Vertigo attacks are sometimes preempted by a sudden loss in hearing from the affected ear, along with intense, disorienting ringing in the ear. Vertigo and vomiting can last for hours, followed by a period of extreme exhaustion.
In between episodes, many battle ongoing symptoms such a brain fog, dizziness / rocking sensations, nausea, and fatigue, and though people often feel unwell, they go about daily life, often coping in silence. With surprisingly little research to date, Meniere’s is not a condition that is “in the spotlight”, and many in the general public are unaware it even exists.
Thought to affect .2% of the adult population, most sufferers experience the onset of symptoms between the ages of 40 and 60. Diagnosing someone with Meniere’s presents a challenge for doctors because the symptoms and triggers often mimic those of other disorders.
Though there is no cure, this complex condition is often managed through lifestyle changes including maintaining a strict low sodium diet, avoiding alcohol and caffeine, reducing stress, and getting proper sleep. That’s a tall order for most patients, and easier said than done. Medications can help alleviate symptoms in some patients, while others require more aggressive treatments and surgical procedures.
The condition tends to come and go, causing even more confusion and frustration. Relief can last months, sometimes years at a time, only to have the attacks return without warning, and unfortunately, with greater intensity.
Beginning in November, The Bill Wilkerson Center at Vanderbilt Medical Center will be offering a free monthly support group, where Meniere’s patients in the Middle Tennessee area, regardless of where they go for medical care, can come and find encouragement, knowledge, and empowerment to help them manage their condition.
The health care team at Vanderbilt Medical Center recognizes the importance of providing accurate diagnosis, treatment and care for patients with Meniere’s Disease.
Each month a Vanderbilt professional will present a topic of interest to the group, followed by a time for attendees to ask questions and get to know others who understand their struggles. Guest speakers in the fields of Audiology, Otolaryngology, Research and Clinical Trials, Holistic Medicine and Stress Management among others will be donating their time to the program.
Although the internet is riddled with frightening and often untrue information about the condition, there is hope for those with Meniere’s Disease. With proper diagnosis, careful symptom management, improvements in treatment options, and maintaining a positive attitude, many people can lead productive and enjoyable lives.
For more information about this important program, visit the Facebook Page @VanderbiltMenieresSupport, or email MenieresGroupAtVanderbilt@gmail.com