THE TV wildlife expert talks about Ménière’s disease, an ear condition causing dramatic vertigo and nausea that has dogged him for more than a decade
January 3, 2016 lussy
‘My dizziness got so bad I feared it was a brain tumour,’ says Chris Packham.
Chris is determined not to let the condition stop him
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Chris is determined not to let the condition stop him [REX]
Next time you enjoy a beer and crisps in the pub, spare a thought for TV wildlife presenter Chris Packham. Alcohol and salt are just two of the triggers that can spark terrifying attacks of dizziness, vertigo and nausea which can leave Chris, 53, collapsed in a heap on the floor and barely able to see.
The presenter of hit wildlife programmes such as Springwatch, Inside The Animal Mind and The Really Wild Show has suffered for more than a decade with Ménière’s disease, a condition that affects the inner ear and can without warning send the brain’s visual perception of the world into a high-speed spin.
It also damages hearing and causes tinnitus, a constant ringing sound that has been known to drive some people to suicide.
“I’ve not eaten a packet of crisps in years and I have to be very careful with alcohol too because it can leave me dehydrated which is one of my main triggers for attacks,” says Chris, who divides his time between homes in the New Forest and South-west France.
“They can strike out of nowhere. There have been times when I have slumped to the ground without even having time to put my arm out to stop myself.”
Chris is now using his experience to highlight the plight of people with hearing problems in poverty-stricken parts of Africa. He is supporting a campaign by the charity Sound Seekers, backed by Specsavers hearing care, to boost the lives of children with hearing loss in southern Malawi, where infants are twice as likely to be partially deaf than those in the UK.
The Department for International Development has pledged to match donations pound for pound to generate enough cash to pay for hearing tests in the region and to recondition thousands of discarded hearing aids that could transform the lives of deaf youngsters.
Ménière’s disease is a surprisingly common condition, affecting an estimated one in a thousand people in Britain. Most are aged between 20 and 60 and the majority, for reasons which remain unclear, are women. The exact cause remains something of a mystery but experts believe it is to do with pressure in the inner ear.
The inner ear contains a coiled tube called the cochlea which has two fluid-filled chambers and is responsible for hearing. It also has another complex set of tubes that control balance. If the fluid pressure changes in these tubes it can spark vertigo and tinnitus. In Ménière’s disease this can happen on an extreme scale.
Sudden attacks usually last around two to three hours but it can take a couple of days for the symptoms to disappear completely. Over time these episodes become less frequent and can even stop completely after five to 10 years.
However sufferers can be left with permanent balance problems as well as tinnitus and hearing loss that gets worse over time. There is no cure but drugs are available to treat the symptoms. Patients are often advised to avoid dehydration by limiting alcohol intake and switching to a low-salt diet.