By: Dr. Esther Fogel
A few weeks ago, Huey Lewis, the singer famous for his many hit songs in the 1980’s, shocked his fans by cancelling all of his future concerts. In a Facebook post on April 13, Huey revealed that he is suffering from Meniere’s disease, and that he can no longer “hear music well enough to sing.” This news has propelled a renewed awareness about Meniere’s disease.
In 1861, the French physician Prosper Ménière first described this inner-ear condition that now bears his name. The symptoms of the disease are episodes of vertigo, fluctuating hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing or “roaring” in the ears), and a feeling of fullness in the ear. Due to the unpredictable nature of the vertigo, and the prospect of permanent hearing loss, those who are stricken with Meniere’s disease often suffer from the emotional burden, which can then lead to severe bouts of depression and anxiety.
While it is known that the disorder is caused by endolymphatic hydrops, the medical term for swelling of fluid in the inner ear, the cause of this fluid build-up is still an unknown. According to the Mayo Clinic, many factors, including, improper fluid drainage, an abnormal immune response, head trauma, migraines, or stress, can contribute to Meniere’s disease.
At the present time, due to the lack of clarity as to the cause of the disease, there is no known cure for Meniere’s Disease. Many strategies are utilized to help minimize the episodes of vertigo including limiting salt intake and cutting out all caffeine, to lessen fluid retention, as well as managing stress. Another treatment is the injection of steroids into the inner ear by an otolaryngologist, which has been shown to reduce the frequency and severity of the vertigo attacks and in some cases improve hearing. Additionally, an audiologist can evaluate the exact degree and frequency of the hearing loss and provide the appropriate type of hearing aid for each specific person.
Chaplain Ephraim Travis, a Captain (Ret.) in the U.S. Army and a native of Far Rockaway, shared his personal story of Meniere’s disease. In August 2012, while on active duty, he began to feel short of breath and “out of sorts” while out on a run and had to step out of formation, and eventually was not able to stand due to the vertigo. He spent the next 4 and a half months visiting various specialists. It was not until his next episodes in 2015 that he was properly diagnosed with Meniere’s disease.
When Ephraim came to the realization that he had a chronic illness that would not allow him to be deployed with his troops, he began to suffer from depression. He was devastated and felt that his career was over. Today, however, Ephraim works hard at trying to spread the message that with the proper support, those suffering from Meniere’s disease can still “lead an amazing and productive life.” Ephraim embarked on his recovery with a service dog to help in the event of future episodes, and was even able to recently run a 5K with his service dog, Aspen, at his side.
Coinciding with Ephraim’s message of a positive attitude and recognizing that “life is not over,” Huey Lewis expressed his hope for the future in a recent interview on the Today Show. Though he says that “he hasn’t come to grips with the fact that I may never sing again” he maintains a hope that we will get better. In his interview with Jenna Bush Hager, Huey maintained his positive hopes for the future while recognizing the difficult road ahead.
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