Rocker Huey Lewis, 67, had to put his career on hold recently when he was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease, a condition of the inner ear that can cause permanent hearing loss as well as balance issues.
Lewis is one of the approximately 615,000 in the U.S. who have the condition, according to the National Institutes of Health. In his case, it caused him to lose his pitch. “I can’t hear music well enough to sing. The lower frequencies distort violently, making it impossible to find pitch,” the singer said, announcing the cancellation of all his 2018 tour dates.
Meniere’s, named for the French physician Prosper Ménière, who discovered it in the 1860s, isn’t new. However, with more than 45,000 new cases diagnosed each year, and celebrities such as Lewis, actress and singer Kristin Chenoweth, and singer Ryan Adams among the high-profile people who have revealed their struggles with the disease, it has become better known in recent years. There is no known cause or cure for the condition, but it is treatable. Here’s what to know.
A Meniere’s diagnosis requires all four major symptoms.
Because a cause hasn’t been identified, the disease is defined by its four major symptoms. The first is a sudden, spontaneous attack of prolonged vertigo — violent rotary spinning and dizziness — occurring from 20 minutes to eight hours at a time. The second is a fluctuating hearing loss of lower frequencies just before, during or right after the vertigo attack. The third is roaring tinnitus — ear ringing, or the perception of sound in the absence of sound — that rises with the attack and then abates. The fourth symptom is a sensation of the affected ear’s canal filling up.
"If you don’t have that spectrum of symptoms, then you don’t meet the criteria,” says Gregory Basura, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Michigan.
Meniere’s symptoms mimic those of other conditions, so it’s important to see a specialist to get a proper diagnosis.