DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a 69-year-old woman who has Ménière’s disease, and I find it quite debilitating. I have had to forfeit my exercise routine and golf and the pleasures of retirement because of it. I am on an extremely low-salt diet and take a diuretic. Any suggestions from you would be welcomed. – A.S.

Ménière’s (main-YAIRS) disease carries the triple threat of episodes of hearing loss, ear noises and dizziness. The episodes last from 20 minutes to three hours. As time goes by, intervals between attacks often grow shorter, and symptoms last longer. In six or more years, 70 percent of Ménière’s patients no longer have the attacks of dizziness, but the hearing loss and the ear noises (tinnitus) persist and are there all the time.

The problem arises because the inner ear, usually on one side, fills with fluid, and the fluid disrupts the balance and hearing mechanisms located there.

Severely cutting back on salt and taking a water pill can pull some of the fluid out of the inner ear and ease attacks. It might be just a matter of time before you start seeing improvement. You might find that going easy on caffeine, chocolate, nicotine and alcohol diminishes attacks and their severity.

There are nonmedicine treatments also available. Those treatments can be turned to when Ménière’s makes life unbearable. One is insertion of a draining tube that siphons fluid from the inner ear. Another is the Meniett device. It’s a small tube placed in the eardrum. With a special gadget, the patient blows puffs of air into the ear to dry the inner ear.

Gentamicin, an antibiotic, can be injected through the eardrum. It can diminish the number of attacks, but it might also leave the person with slightly diminished hearing.

Since Ménière’s most often affects only one ear, the nerve that transmits garbled balance signals to the brain can be cut. That often relieves dizziness. The other ear nerve can compensate for the destroyed one.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I had an ovarian cancer blood test done, and it has come back positive. I am scheduled to see my gynecologist, but I would like your opinion in the meantime. Does this mean I do have ovarian cancer? – C.C.

The test you had, I am sure, was the test called CA-125. Ovarian cancer can raise the blood level of CA-125, but so can noncancerous conditions such as fibroids and endometriosis. It is not a reliable indicator of ovarian cancer. It is, however, a reliable indicator of the effectiveness of therapy for ovarian cancer. When treatment works, the blood level of CA-125 drops.

Scans and ultrasounds detect ovarian cancer more reliably.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Please write about ataxia. My husband had it, but I cannot find any information on it. Where can I learn more about it? – F.W.

“Ataxia” refers to any uncoordinated muscle action, such as arm and hand movements. Most often it is used to describe an unsteady, off-balance walk. The cerebellum – the little brain – is the brain location where much of muscle coordination takes place, and it is often the site where ataxia problems arise.

The number of ataxia conditions is staggering. Usually there is a word in front of “ataxia” that identifies the place in the brain or spinal cord where the trouble arises. Many ataxias are inherited. Some come on with other illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis, strokes or brain tumors.

I am being less than helpful, but I cannot go any further without knowing the word that modifies your husband’s ataxia.

You can get information from the National Ataxia Foundation, 2600 Fernbrook Lane, Suite 119, Minneapolis, MN 55447-4752. The telephone number is 1-763-553-0020, and the Web site is

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: If a pregnant woman has a positive AIDS test, what are the chances her baby will have AIDS? This is more than a theoretical question for me. – Anon.

Before effective AIDS treatment, 30 percent of babies born to women with a positive AIDS test got the illness. Now it is less than 10 percent.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

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