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Meniere's and Music: Meet David Alstead

The holidays are a time of inspiration. We give thanks for our blessings and feel the inspiration of the season. Truly, this is the time of year when we reflect on our lives and seek the rewards of inspiring people who represent the best of humanity in difficult times.

Meet David Alstead

David Alstead grew up in a musical family and learned to play the piano at a young age. In fact, he was competing at the age of 8, he was that good. A musical prodigy.

David Alstead
David Alstead

That all changed during high school when, at the age of 16, David noticed a change in his hearing. “It was very disturbing. I would hear a sound, and at the same time, hear the same sound slightly higher.

Lower tones would be doubled further away from the original tone than would higher tones, and this made listening to music impossible.

It wreaked havoc with being in choir, and orchestra, where I played violin. It was shortly after that that I began being hit by the feeling of fullness and debilitating vertigo, along with nerve noise. I learned to recognize the two minute warning of the vertigo attacks, which allowed me to get to the nurses office. All of my teachers knew that if I stood up and quickly walked out of the classroom, it was best not to stop me or I might not make it to the nurse’s office in time.”

There’s cruel irony when a talented musician and composer experiences hearing loss (think Beethoven) but David Alstead has not allowed Meniere’s disease to slow down his musical career. In fact, he just recently released a lovely album of Christmas music just in time for holiday gift giving.

During a recent interview with Healthy Hearing’s managing editor, Kristi Albers, David talked about his latest release and his earlier compilations.

“…since my first CD, “Piano For Both Ears”, I felt compelled to make some reference to my hearing. I did it again with “Pieces Of Piano”, and made it three with this Christmas CD, “I Heard The Bells.”

When I was in the planning stages for “I Heard The Bells” I discovered “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day”, an old Christmas carol I wanted to have some fun with, so “I Heard The Bells,” as a title for the CD, was born.”

David’s remarkable ability to compose and play music while experiencing Meniere’s disease is, in itself, inspirational. Fortunately, his compositions are inspiring to all, making David a truly remarkable musician.

What is Menieres Disease?

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD): “Ménière's disease is an abnormality of the inner ear causing a host of symptoms, including vertigo or severe dizziness, tinnitus or a roaring sound in the ears, fluctuating hearing loss, and the sensation of pressure or pain in the affected ear. The disorder usually affects only one ear and is a common cause of hearing loss. Named after French physician Prosper Ménière who first described the syndrome in 1861.”

There’s debate among hearing care professionals about the cause of Meniere’s but most agree that it’s related to the displacement of fluids in a part of the inner ear called the labyrinth.

However, even though researchers continue to study Meniere’s to determine the actual cause of the condition, the symptoms are the same. Symptoms may consist of vertigo, the feeling of fullness in one ear, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), and hearing loss. Symptoms may be temporary or permanent.

For David his Meniere’s has resulted in single-sided deafness (SSD). Complete deafness in only on ear is difficult for anyone who experiences it, but it is doubly difficult if you happen to be a talented composer and musician. That’s what makes David Alstead and his music so inspiring at this special time of year.

David Alstead on Living and Thriving With Meniers

In a 2006 interview  with Healthy Hearing, David described the challenges he’s had to face throughout his life due to Meniere’s:

“It is quite a long process to even get to a diagnosis of Menieres. So it was with me, but I was eventually diagnosed with Menieres in my left ear. I was put on supervitamins, an antihistamine, a diuretic, and niacin, with a salt restricted diet, and no caffeine.

This seemed to help a little, but during my first year at college, I still had the attacks, along with decreased hearing in my left ear. The surgery was a last chance option I was told. It was an endolymphatic sac decompression. I understood that at the time it was experimental, and I had it at the University of Minnesota Hospital.

A lot changed in my life after losing the hearing in my left ear.

The first thing I noticed was the lopsided, almost lightheaded feeling from the ears not hearing equally. It was very disorienting, and it took years to get used to it. I also suddenly cared what side of people I stood on and where I was seated at a table so that I could hear everyone.

Being in an enclosed space with large groups of people just makes me wince, as it is impossible to hear one person over the background noise. I tend to stay away from noisy situations, though I have developed a partial lip-reading ability. It is just enough to get me through most situations.

I have had more than one occasion where people thought I was ignoring them. I had no idea they had even been talking to me! I have learned that when I start working with new people, I make sure to let them know about my deafness, so that they know they have to have my attention before they talk to me.

I do have to say, though, that people are right about losing one ear and the other taking over. My hearing in my right ear improved so much that in college I could listen to conversations going on in the next room that others could not hear.”

Life Goes On By Staying Healthy

Although David has experienced Meniere’s in his better ear and does occasionally have symptoms, he feels he has kept that ear stable and the severity of his symptoms by eating a strict diet of low sodium foods, reducing stress levels, has no caffeine, limits alcohol use, takes a multi-vitamin daily along with an antihistamine and gets plenty of sleep each night.

“I still have some fullness, hearing distortion and hearing loss that occur when I don’t get enough sleep, or during stressful times. I have been fortunate that when they have occurred, they have been temporary. I try to stay as healthy as possible as well, since the same problems appear when I get sick. Thankfully, I have not had to deal with any vertigo with this last round of symptoms.”

Looking for a Little Inspiration This Christmas?

Both David and his music inspire and capture the true meaning of this important holiday. And any one of his CDs will make the perfect gift for a loved one in need of inspiration.

That’s truly a gift that keeps on giving and one you and your family will grow to love. To order any of David’s CDs and give the gift of inspiration, you may visit his website.

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