Health, Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

Unveiling Invisible Illnesses – Ménière’s Disease

I will never stop dreaming. My wanderlust will never die in me. I will never stop wanting my best life ever, no matter how sick I feel. -Leah

Ménière’s Disease is an inner ear disorder that causes episodes of vertigo. Triggers can be caused by stress, pressure changes, emotional distress, certain foods, physical fatigue, additional illnesses and too much salt in your diet. Tinnitus and hearing loss may become worse over time. You may have periods of time in remission or you may also experience continuous attacks. Attacks can appear without warning and can last hours, sometimes taking days to resolve completely. Unpredictable attacks may lead to anxiety and depression.

I interviewed Leah about her chronic and invisible illness. She is an incredibly positive woman who always fights for strength and courage through tough times and often looking at someone who seems poised and put together, we never see their emotional and physical battles. Leah shares her story with us.

What is your official diagnosis?

Ménière’s Disease. Treatment can help but there is no cure. It is a chronic lifelong autoimmune disease.

How has this affected your life? How about your mood?

Ménière’s Disease has affected my life in many ways. I have lost the majority of my hearing in my left ear and also have constant tinnitus, an annoying ringing in the ears. I have random and sudden onsets of severe vertigo that leads to nausea, vomiting, migraines, sweating, irregular heartbeat, sensitivity to light and sound and also sudden drop attacks. As a result, I have had to cut down to working part time which has been a financial strain, limit driving, change my diet and eliminate or lessen certain triggers such as stress, caffeine, alcohol and certain stores like Walmart.

Ménière’s Disease has affected my mood tremendously. Some days are better than others. I have a lot more anxiety and feelings of guilt than I have ever encountered in my life. I also struggle with adjustment issues. As a result, I’ve been seeing a therapist once a week for several months. It is very beneficial to my life and the lives of my family and loved ones.

At a glance, you look healthy. Would you say that people don’t quite understand the severity of your illness? How had this made certain aspects of your life difficult, such as career and relationships?

Absolutely! Friends and coworkers will often say “You look so healthy and beautiful, how could you possibly be so sick?”

I explain to them that taking care of my looks, whether it be styling my hair, wearing make up, or wearing a nice outfit, it helps my mood. I may feel awful but taking care of my physical features helps raise my self esteem when I’m having a bad health day. My illness has affected my career significantly. I have to work in a certain setting that will not induce an episode. Fortunately, I work in a medical setting and most of my coworkers are understanding. My illness hasn’t effected my personal relationships as much, as I am grateful to have very understanding a supportive friends and family. I do at times, however, feel guilty when I have to reschedule plans or cancel last minute due to feeling ill. Feeling like a burden to others has been something I have struggled with, but since I started seeing my therapist, I have learned how to manage and cope with those feelings.

What inspires you?

My family and my pursuit in enjoying all the adventures life has to offer is what inspires me. My children and family keep me strong and motivated to live a happy life. Even though I have this illness, I never ever let it stop me from trying new things, traveling, and adventuring!

What are 3 things you can’t live without?

1. I can’t live without my beautiful loving children, my supportive family and my compassionate friends.

2. Avocados

3. Star Wars

Favorite quote?

My favorite quote comes from The Dalai Lama –

Each of you should feel that you have great potential and that, with self-confidence and a little more effort, change really is possible if you want it. If you feel that your present way of life is unpleasant or has some difficulties, then don’t look at these negative things. See the positive side, the potential, and make an effort. ~ The Dalai Lama

What advice would you have for people newly diagnosed with your same illness?

My advice to those newly diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease would be to not give up on life. Just because there are certain things you have to limit or can’t do anymore doesn’t mean you can’t live a fulfilling life. Make adjustments to accommodate your life. Don’t ever feel like a burden! People who love and support you won’t feel this way. And lastly you are not alone nor invisible. Reach out to friends, family, groups that have advice on your illness and counseling. You can survive this!

*Something I’d like to add is that just like you and so many of us living daily with invisible illness, I don’t let the illness stop me from being a mom of two, working full time again now, and going to school full time, as well as trying to be a decent human being and live all the adventures that life has to offer. Even though it is tough, I want other MD sufferers to know it is possible to go for your dreams and achieve them.

Health

Hair Breakage, Hair Loss and Hair That Sucks

Before you start looking for a miracle shampoo or magical fairy dust online for your vanishing hair, let’s take a moment to dissect this issue. If your hair sucks and it is breaking off and you don’t have over-processed hair then it may be time to see a doctor. No special shampoo is going to fix this. I am going to walk you through some health issues that may pertain to you and guide you to the right tests to request from your doctor. If you have hair breakage or hair loss, you need to get some blood work done. Below is a list of what to look for.

  • Vitamin D Deficiency

Vitamin D deficiencies are actually fairly common. Even living in a sunny state, you cannot always get enough vitamin D. Even if you have a super healthy and strict diet, you still may not be getting enough. For some, deficiencies are caused by malabsorption from leaky gut, celiac disease or other inflammatory bowel issues that can cause damage. Low vitamin D can cause hair loss, infertility, depression, bone pain and a weak immune system. If you are critically low, it may take at least a month to get balanced. It is important to see your levels in case you need a prescription strength supplement. Most doctors do not test your D levels so ask specifically and then get a copy of your labs for records and to make sure. Sometimes, “Everything looks good, you’re fine” or “it’s probably stress” is not true. Check the damn D!

  • Thyroid Disorders

Hair does not grow continuously. It goes through phases. Telogen is the phase where hair is shed and replaced by new hair. It is natural to shed hair and is balanced by new hair. Stress or illnesses can cause the hair to remain in the resting phase while growth temporarily ceases. The human hair cycle is 7 months so sometimes it takes awhile to notice when it becomes a problem.

Hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism can cause hair loss. Treating a thyroid condition is the only way to help with loss of hair in this case. Also, if a shampoo causes you to “detox” your hair then you should throw it in the trash. I promise it is not normal and your hair won’t grow back tenfold.

Normal hair shedding is 50-100 strands per day. Keep in mind that if you have a ton of hair, you may shed a little more than average. If you have not brushed or shampooed your hair all week, you may shed a little more when you finally do. Everyone has their normal. If your normal changes then it is a sign that something is going on.

  • Autoimmune Disease (Lupus)

Autoimmune Diseases are unfortunately not understood enough by doctors. Hopefully, in the future we will have more research and more answers but at the moment, a lot of doctors do not really understand how they work. Rheumatologists typically handle autoimmune diseases. If you are suspicious that you have an autoimmune disease, ask your primary care physician for an ANA blood test, which tests antinuclear antibodies. If you are ANA positive you can then be referred to a rheumatologist. However, most rheumatologists just prescribe. No one seems to wonder WHY is my body freaking out and attacking itself? I personally believe autoimmune diseases are caused by something such as Lyme Disease, malabsorption due to intestinal damage, Epstein Barr Virus, Deficiencies, etc.

  • Leaky Gut

Malabsorption due to intestinal damage, a messed up gut biosphere from processed foods and overprescribed antibiotics, alcohol, sugar, too much bad bacteria and less good bacteria are a few reasons to throw off your gut balance. Do I sound like a broken record? I am sorry, but you are reading this for a reason, right? Think about it… food is nutrition. We eat food and our bodies function from the vitamins and minerals in our food. For example, potassium (found in bananas) helps our heart rhythm. Muscle spasms? That is magnesium. No energy and a headache? Vitamin B. Food helps us function and we are literally putting garbage in our bodies. While you choke down your McDonalds cheeseburger, bag of Doritos, Diet Coke and Zebra Cake, you are filling your veins with sugar, preservatives, aluminum, dyes, artificial flavors, and whatever other fillers and junk that are used to make a cheap snack. Then, we bitch about achey joints and a headaches. Get your body right and treat yourself to the self care you deserve, which is nutrition.

  • Iron Deficiency – Anemia

Being anemic will certainly cause hair loss too. Brittle nails, headaches, lethargy, restless leg syndrome are a few other symptoms. This is a condition in which blood lacks adequate healthy red blood cells which carry oxygen to your body’s tissues.

  • Hormones

Before you try any “magical” shampoos, know that red clover can mess with your hormones, especially if you already have hormonal issues. Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is common with male pattern baldness by shrinking hair follicles. Women’s hormone levels decline as menopause approaches. Men have their peak hair period at the age of 17 and women at the age of 19 and it goes downhill from them.

Now that we have learned a little about the ROOT cause of hair loss (pun intended) we can try to correct these issues and get healthy. I also suggest Biotin for hair help and Vitamin C, which helps with collagen production and our immune system. It also takes time for our body to get in balance so a 30 day program or fad diet will not suffice. It is a lifestyle changing, habit breaking zone you need to get in. Inflammation causes hair loss and our bodies are inflamed from the many inflammatory things we consume. Stay hydrated, eat clean, check your blood work and treat your body right.

Health, Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

Unveiling Invisible Illnesses – Endometriosis

Laura Kay Halcom from Rockledge, Florida is 1 of 10 who struggle with endometriosis, a painful disorder in which the tissue that grows on the lining of your uterus spreads to other organs like the fallopian tubes and ovaries. With no way to exit the body like normal menstruation, the tissue becomes trapped and causes pain, scaring, adhesions and fertility problems.

Endometriosis is difficult to diagnose without an invasive procedure, a laparoscopy. Often times it will be misdiagnosed with IBS or deemed psychological. Symptoms can range based on severity but can cause nausea, low grade fevers, heavy bleeding, lower back pain, pelvic pain, painful intercourse, painful bowel movements and fatigue.

Treatment usually starts with birth control hormones to try to regulate your cycle but unfortunately, some women are very sensitive to the hormones and don’t always respond to that treatment. Another option is an endometrial ablation, but it is not always suggested if you plan to have children. A hysterectomy is a final option but there are studies that it still is no cure and it is a rough surgery. If your endometrial tissue grows onto other organs, removing the uterus is not going to help. There are studies that nutrition can play a big role. An anti-inflammatory diet can help minimize symptoms.

Avoiding gluten, red meat, sugar, caffeine and alcohol can help alleviate symptoms and inflammation. Having a well-balanced diet full of nutrients, antioxidants, fatty acids and iron rich foods is important. Turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory compound that you can take as capsules or sprinkle on your food. Having plenty of rest, staying hydrated and support will be your best friend for this diagnosis.

Meet Laura

What is your invisible illness?

Endometriosis, Depression, Anxiety

When and how were you diagnosed?

Endo: June 2017 by laparoscopic surgery. It took 12 years and dozens of tests for me to be diagnosed. I have had anxiety & depression since I was 16.

What were your struggles and fear after diagnosis?

There is no known cause, and no cure. Now, the treatments of birth control and antidepressants are just making things worse. I also fear infertility.

What advice do you have for anyone going through a new diagnosis?

Be patient with yourself. Keep records of everything. Find your community of people struggling with what you are fighting. Talk about it. Educate yourself so that you can educate others.

What are your goals and dreams in life?

My goal is to finish my business degree. I want to be an educator and an entertainer. I dream of my own business, where I can express myself through art, music, and nature. I dream of adventure in far away places.

Three things you cannot live without: Sunshine, hugs, and my heating pad!

Favorite Quote:

“What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”

Endo Warrior Shirt

Health, Healthy Food

Invisible Illnesses Unveiled – Celiac Disease

Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder in which gluten ingestion can cause damage to the small intestine and other long-term health issues. 

Theresa Lanno is a hairstylist and my business partner at Bombshells Barbershop & Glam Lounge in Rockledge, Florida. We busted our asses to open our salon. Stress can do a lot of things to our bodies. Theresa was rapidly losing weight without trying. She was coughing up blood and having stomach issues. The first doctor she saw gave her ulcer medication and chalked it up to stress. Can you imagine if she just took those pills and did not push for further tests? She would be damaging her body for many years to come and suffer from more health issues. Many autoimmune diseases are a dominos effect on your health. 

 Long Term Health Effects

Celiac disease can develop at any age after people start eating foods or medicines that contain gluten. Left untreated, celiac disease can lead to additional serious health problems. These include the development of other autoimmune disorders like Type I diabetes and multiple sclerosis (MS), dermatitis herpetiformis (an itchy skin rash), anemia, osteoporosis, infertility and miscarriage, neurological conditions like epilepsy and migraines, short stature, and intestinal cancers. 
*Read more here.

 

Theresa also had a vitamin D deficiency, which can cause brain fog, bone pain, fatigue, depression and muscle weakness. Deficiencies are common with celiac disease. Gluten is a protein found in wheat and 1 in 100 people overreact to this particular protein, which damages the villi in their small intestines and causes poor absorption of food. Malnourishment can eventually lead to infertility, miscarriage, bone density loss, neurological diseases and certain types of cancer. 

Fortunately, the cure for celiac disease is to completely cut gluten out of your diet. My goal in unveiling invisible illnesses is to push others to be their own advocate and to get answers and not just accept the first guess a doctor quickly throws at you before their next patient. We want answers and and test as well asnproper treatments and not bandages or pills to mask our symptoms. 

Even if you are not Celiac, gluten sensitivities can cause similar issues minus the intestinal damage. Gluten has been know as an inflammatory food. You can read more here about research and references. 


*Photos by Misti Blu





At what age did you discover symptoms and how long did it take to get an official diagnosis?

Theresa: I found out I have Celiac disease in April. I’ve always had stomach aches and low energy.  I never thought anything of it until the past two years when my life got miserable. I couldn’t eat or drink with out feeling sick. I would get migraines, nausea, dizziness,  heartburn, brain fog and joint pain, which ruled my life. 

How do you feel about the healthcare system? 

Theresa: The healthcare system is very flawed. I went through tests for 2 years before getting a diagnosis. Every doctor said I was young and healthy with low vitamin levels & stress. I lost 20 pounds in 2 months. I knew it was something else and not just stress. Thankfully, after many different doctors, I went to a walk in clinic begging for answers. They finally sent me to a gastroenterologist. Even after going through all my tests it took over a month to get a diagnosis. Celiac disease isn’t very common and many doctors still don’t have knowledge about this disease, which is so frustrating. 

Do people have a hard time understanding your illness?

Theresa: Yes!  The worst thing about this disease is that the only way to feel better is by sticking to a strict gluten free diet. Cross contamination is a nightmare, which makes eating out almost impossible. Also, people use gluten free as a fad diet which makes restaurants not take it seriously. I get asked if my body’s intolerance to gluten is “a choice or an allergy.” Why anyone would make this choice for no reason is beyond me. Gluten free is not a fad, actually gluten free breads and sweets usually have more sugar and calories than “regular” things do! 

Do you have a message for people in your shoes who are struggling with this illness?

Theresa: It gets easier! The cravings are part of the disease. Be strong and don’t give into cravings. Celiac disease is strongly linked to cancer, MS, neuropathy, and diabetes. It’s no joke and there are so many people out there who feel the same!

What do you miss the most from before your diagnosis?

Theresa: I miss having a normal dinner with my friends and family.  I was such a foodie! I still am but it’s just harder now.  I don’t want to be the person who asks the waitress a million questions or has to fear getting sick from a chef’s negligence or server error.  But, most of all I miss real New Haven style PIZZA! 
What is your new favorite (gluten free) dish?

Theresa:  I have learned to make almost everything I loved before in a gluten free way. My favorite thing has been chicken parmesan! Barrilla makes the best GF pasta! I love Boars Heads deli meats for lunch and Goodie Girl Cookies are the shit for snacks! Sweets are my weak spot, and the Melting Pot has the best GF spread you will ever see! 

How have you changed or felt since your diet change? 

Theresa: All in all, the sucky diet is so worth the change. I feel so much better. I am down 20 lbs all together.  I still have days where my energy sucks and everything hurts but that is part of the autoimmune thing. No more crippling migraines or joint pain. It sucks sometimes but it could always be worse!

Health, Healthy Food

A Letter To The Restaurant Industry – From A “Picky” Eater

More than 50 million Americans have food allergies. Is it outrageous to suggest that restaurants should train their staff on food allergies and which menu items may contain certain ingredients? This job is not just about refilling someone’s water or placing an order. Having standards for your employees to know what is in the salad on the menu should be a given but unfortunately, most of the time the answer is “I don’t THINK there is dairy in it.” Why not train your staff to know what is in the food they serve?

When a customer shits their brains out, gets a debilitating migraine, crashes for 4 solid hours and wakes up to the room spinning, breaks out in hives or whatever other awful things may happen after you collect their tip and they head home, they will never come to your restaurant again. They will associate their post meal reaction with your food and consider it poison. You are now officially blacklisted on one customer’s dining list. Maybe it is just one, no big deal! But I promise this number will grow.

We are not a bunch of picky asshole snobs. Guess what? We can actually see your judgemental face and hear your shit talking in the kitchen. Let me guess… “People who have restrictions should not go out to eat.”  Go fuck yourself! Are you seriously telling me that I have to forgo dinner with friends or the occasional date night or even the last minute takeout order after a long day because you can’t get your shit together? Welcome to the new age, buddy. People have allergies. It is not always a fad diet craze. When someone says no butter, for example, and you bring them their dish cooked in butter anyway, just realize that you could be seriously hurting that person. They may have to call into work the next day or spend the evening watching flashing lights as the room spins while day dreaming about drilling a hole in their skull to release pressure.


It is your job. Take people’s requests seriously or change your job position to the dish pit or try retail if you can’t be open minded to the fact that allergies and food sensitivities exist. You are in the wrong industry if you are going to be an asshole about a food modification for someone’s dietary needs.

Also, latex gloves. If you still carry latex at your restaurant, you should know that hospitals have banned latex years ago and you can find information here to educate yourself and staff on that. Latex is also a common allergy. If hospitals no longer use it, maybe it is time you consider switching.

Perhaps you want to gain a few more customers? Make a small side menu for gluten free or dairy free items so that your food allergy customers can have an option besides a side of lettuce. They will tell all their friends and possibly specifically come to your restaurant because they feel like they are not being treated like garbage and will now keep you on the rotation.


Thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope that you will think about not discriminating your next customer who has “annoying” special requests. Treating customers with great hospitality is your job and I hope the tips flow even better now that you are a little more informed on how to treat people and that for some people, dairy or wheat may not close up their throat but could make them feel like they got hit by a semi truck while being forced to trip on shrooms.
*Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease where gluten damages the small intestines. For others, gluten may not be an allergy or have as severe reactions as Celiacs but can cause an autoimmune response as it is considered an inflammatory food. For others, dairy may not be a lactose intolerant issue but an actual allergy that can cause a number of issues. For me, it causes tachycardia, vertigo, nausea, joint pain, fatigue, brain fog and sometimes other cardiac issues.

Health, Healthy Food

Nutrition In Healthcare 

Why do hospitals have prison grade nutrition for patients? Think about it. You are sick and vulnerable and trying to get healthy and they load you up with sugar, salts, preservatives and basically nothing of nutritional value. 


I am in the hospital today and have a dairy allergy and as usual get a tray full of dairy products. Sorry to be a pain, but most dairy gives me debilitating migraines with aura and a comatose crash for 3 hours. My body hates meat and makes my digestive system shut down. Sugar makes me sick and crash very hard and I already tend to run high on glucose levels. And coffee? I am here for tachycardia and arrhythmias so why would that even be a good idea? I also try to avoid gluten because it does not follow an anti inflammatory diet but I can’t imagine this hospital having those options. To most, I sound like a picky bitch. I have an autoimmune disease. I will have a flare up, tachycardia, migraines and nausea and joint pain. 

None of the food provided is nutritional and it is heartbreaking that sick people are not fed anything fresh, just boxed, frozen or canned garbage. I was asked if I wanted red jello for desert. How about fresh fruit? 

In all of the money made in healthcare, no one has ever decided to stand up and ask why we feed patients garbage? It is not even really a financial thing. I have mastered eating healthy on a budge and don’t spend any more than I would eating meat and dairy. It is this country’s lifestyle. We accept convenience over anything else. We are set in our ways. Everything they have told us must be true.