In November of 2008, my doctor, in conjunction with an Ear Nose and Throat specialist (otolaryngologist), an audiologist, and an MRI, diagnosed me with Ménière’s disease. Ménière’s disease is a condition of the inner ear which affects hearing, balance and essentially makes you seasick while motionless.
Ménière’s disease is usually diagnosed by the elimination of several other conditions that could cause the symptoms that plague me. Periodic episodes of rotary vertigo or dizziness, progressive and unilateral (in one ear) hearing loss, and unilateral tinnitus can be caused by things as simple as noise damage to the inner ear or by something more complex like cysts on the cochlea. But if the symptoms occur in conjunction with one another, a probable diagnosis is Ménière’s.
There really is no treatment aside from the radical removal of the inner ear. But that procedure is normally reserved for severe sufferers who also are plagued by ‘drop attacks’, a sudden, severe attack of dizziness or vertigo that causes the sufferer, if not seated, to fall. Thankfully, in the four years since my initial diagnosis, I have not progressed anywhere near a level of that severity.
Most patients are advised to adopt a low-sodium diet, typically one to two grams (1000-2000mg) at first, but diets as low as 400mg are not uncommon. I initially tailored my diet by aiming in the 1000 through 1500 milligram per day range since I was advised that this could be beneficial. But have since modified that to something more like 800 through 1200 milligrams per day. This treatment is really aimed at prevention, and I have noticed that it appears to be an effective treatment for me, and in the long run it can’t be anything other than beneficial from a heart health standpoint.
Some of the challenges involved in transitioning to a low-sodium diet are obvious to all. Fast foods, pre-packaged foods, and most snack foods are all richly laden with not only calories and fats, but with sodium as well. That Whopper® with Cheese at Burger King? A whopping 1450 milligrams of sodium, is more than my daily requirement and that is not including the large fries, they are an additional 990 milligrams.
How about a nice piece of pizza? Let’s use the ubiquitous Pizza Hut as an example. A serving of their 14-inch pepperoni pan pizza is 850 milligrams of sodium. That’s almost reasonable, right? Not for me! Their serving is 1 slice of pie. Who can eat only one slice of pepperoni pizza? Even a pizza as wooden as Pizza Hut demands at least two slices, and that alone puts me far over the top at 1700 milligrams. I can’t even consider having breakfast or lunch if I want that single slice of pizza for dinner.
Of course, sometimes you have little choice in where and what you eat. Trying to get a nutritious, low-sodium meal in an airport can be very difficult to say the least. Grabbing a quick meal on a road trip is fraught with danger at almost every turn. But, keeping that in mind I can plan on ordering the least dangerous menu offering and try to make it up to my poor ears the next day. Using the previously mentioned Burger King menu I can order a WHOPPER JR.® Sandwich (no cheese) and a small order of fries with no salt and come away with only a 940 milligram intake. That doesn’t leave much of my daily allotment, but a simple salad with a piece of grilled chicken and an oil and vinegar dressing for dinner will keep me under.
My day to day solutions for a low-sodium diet include menu planning, weekly shopping excursions to the local fruit and vegetable market, as well as the grocery store, and portion control. These things have allowed me to get a firm grip on my sodium intake and manage it on a day to day and meal to meal basis.
The process of sodium management as a ‘cure’ for Ménière’s is preventative in nature and it was hard to tell if I’d been having an effect when you consider that I only had 1-2 incidents a year. However, except for an emotionally stressful week in the summer of 2011, I’ve been vertigo free for a couple of years. So I’m convinced that generally this is the cure for me.