Broadway legend Kristin Chenoweth has lit up venues across the world with her powerful singing and acting chops since she was a schoolgirl. Now, the 51-year-old “Wicked” and “The Good Wife” star is using her voice to raise awareness of an invisible disease she’s managed since her 20s — Meniere’s disease.
Meniere’s is an inner-ear disorder that causes vertigo (extreme dizziness) and tinnitus (ringing in the ear), hearing loss, and ear pressure that comes and goes. Chenoweth’s symptoms usually begin with a migraine, a condition that may cause symptoms that include pulsing headaches, nausea, and vomiting.
“Sometimes I can just wake up with vertigo,” Chenoweth said. “The reason it stinks is because there’s no warning.”
Chenoweth first knew something was wrong during a rehearsal when, even after she stopped dancing, she couldn’t stop spinning.
“My head began to pound and I threw up,” she said. “After suffering for a couple of years, I finally found a doctor who diagnosed me correctly. I went through three days of medical testing to understand I had Meniere’s.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, two vertigo episodes, each lasting between 20 minutes and 12 hours; hearing loss; and tinnitus are some of the diagnostic measures used for Meniere’s.
Because of the incurable disorder, Chenoweth is more selective about the jobs she takes.
“It’s affected my job, or me taking a job that I know I can’t physically do,” she said.
According to Genetics Home Reference, Meniere’s disease doesn’t have a clear genetic link, though some people with the disorder report having a family member with the disorder. Usually, people begin experiencing symptoms in one ear in their 40s or 50s.
In Chenoweth’s case, her symptoms became more severe in her 40s after a freak accident on the set of “The Good Wife” led to hospitalization. TMZ reported that while on the show’s Brooklyn set, a strong gust of wind knocked over lighting equipment, which struck Chenoweth, causing her to fall to the ground unconscious.
After that, Chenoweth said, her symptoms reached “an all-time high.”
To prevent and lessen the severity of Meniere’s episodes, Chenoweth has turned to natural remedies.
Her arsenal includes Tiger Balm, topical medication that provides a cooling effect on aches and pains, but that is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); Salonpas, an FDA-approved, over-the-counter topical patch; heated pads for her neck; and nasal rinse.
Chenoweth also sleeps on an incline, rarely drinks alcohol, and adheres to a low-sodium diet. High-salt diets, along with caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco, can increase fluid retention in the ears and worsen the effects of Meniere’s, according to the Mayo Clinic. The hospital advised consuming less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day for optimal health.
Another way to cope, the Mayo Clinic recommends, is by finding support. That’s a measure Chenoweth also employs.
“I have several friends who have [Meniere’s],” she said, “and we talk about it and get through our pain together.”
To find support, people with Meniere’s may consider visiting the Vestibular Disorders Association website, which offers a one-on-one support tool, a directory of in-person and online support groups, and tips on starting a new support group.
Helping others like her feel less alone is ultimately why Chenoweth decided to speak up about her experience with Meniere’s.
“I wanted others to not feel shameful about their pain and just own it,” Chenoweth said. “We’re all just doing the best we can to get through life with any cross to bear and each person’s is different.”