What is Meniere’s disease, and what can be done to treat it?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've been feeling dizzy and have had a constant ringing in my ears. My doctor has diagnosed me with Meniere's disease. What is this, and what can be done to treat it?

DEAR READER: In Meniere's disease, fluid collects in the inner ear. The inner ear is a complex system that is critical to both hearing and balance. Sound waves hit a membrane (the "eardrum") in the middle ear. The vibrations of the membrane are transmitted to tiny bones in the middle ear, and then to another membrane that starts the inner ear. Inside the inner ear is a snail-shaped structure called the cochlea. The cochlea transforms sound waves into nerve impulses that the brain can interpret. That's how we hear.

I’m losing patches of hair, is this normal or do I have alopecia?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm a man in my 40s, and I've suddenly started to lose patches of hair, but only on certain parts of my head. What's going on?

DEAR READER: What you are describing does not sound like normal baldness, which typically affects a certain part of the head, not patches of hair loss here and there. Instead, it sounds like you could have a condition called alopecia areata. This skin disorder causes hair loss, usually in small round or oval patches, most often on the scalp. The bald patches tend to appear suddenly and affect only a limited area.

Can I prevent my heart failure symptoms from getting worse?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I was just diagnosed with heart failure. So far, my symptoms have been mild. What can I do to make sure they don't get worse?

DEAR READER: Heart failure is a condition that progressively weakens your heart's power to pump blood throughout your body. It may start out mild, but can worsen quickly. Many people think "heart failure" means sudden death. It surely is true that when the heart suddenly stops working at all and a person dies, the heart has failed in the worst possible way. But the term "heart failure" refers to a heart that still is pumping, but just not effectively enough.

What are the treatment options for hyperthyroidism?

DEAR DOCTOR K: What are the treatment options for hyperthyroidism? Can you discuss the pros and cons of each one?

DEAR READER: The thyroid gland in your neck makes thyroid hormone. This chemical circulates in the blood and affects the functioning of every cell in your body. It is essential for life, but you need to have just the right amount circulating, not too much and not too little.

Medications haven’t helped my “functional dyspepsia” — Could something more serious be wrong?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My doctor says I have "functional dyspepsia." Medications haven't helped. Could something more serious be wrong?

DEAR READER: Dyspepsia is a medical term for persistent upper abdominal pain or discomfort. When doctors use the word "functional," they mean that there is no identifiable cause for the problem. By this definition, the majority of people with dyspepsia may have functional dyspepsia.

I have knee osteoarthritis. Are there exercises that could relieve my pain?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have knee osteoarthritis. Are there exercises that could relieve my pain?

DEAR READER: As a fellow sufferer, I know that joint pain from osteoarthritis can really interfere with life. Since putting pressure on the joint can make it hurt more, you might think that exercises would only make the pain worse, and so you might be tempted to avoid exercising altogether.

What are the qualities of a good emergency medicine doctor?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My son is in medical school and is thinking of specializing in emergency medicine. What are the qualities of a good emergency medicine doctor?

DEAR READER: When I was a medical student, I was attracted to work in the emergency department (ED). (EDs are also called emergency rooms, or ERs -- as in the TV show.) It was really exciting. So many of the patients were very sick, but if you made the right diagnosis and gave the right treatment, you could save lives -- every day.

I’ve been diagnosed with shingles– What can I take for the pain?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've been diagnosed with shingles. What can I take for the pain?

DEAR READER: Shingles, also known as herpes zoster or just zoster, is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Once you have had chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus remains in your body's nerve tissues. It is inactive, but it can be reactivated later in life. This causes shingles.

I’ve suffered with bleeding hemorrhoids for many years. My doctor suggested surgery — is this risky?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've suffered with bleeding hemorrhoids for many years and lifestyle changes haven't helped. My doctor suggested surgery. Is this risky?

DEAR READER: Hemorrhoids are swollen veins in the anus. Many people have both internal and external hemorrhoids. Internal hemorrhoids are located inside the anus, but can sometimes push out through the opening of the anus. External hemorrhoids are located at the rim of the anus. Both types can cause bleeding, itching and discomfort.

Does stress cause our cells to age faster?

DEAR DOCTOR K: For years I've heard that chronic stress is bad for your health, but recently I heard something that made me take this seriously: Stress causes our cells to age faster. Is this really true?

DEAR READER: I'll bet you're talking about research showing that stress affects the telomeres. These structures are a part of every cell in our body. And if that's what you're asking about, it really is true. In fact, it's part of a discovery so important that it was honored with the Nobel Prize.