Meniere’s Disease

 

What is Meniere’s Disease?

Affecting the inner ear, Meniere’s disease (also known as Idiopathic Endolymphatic Hydrops) causes debilitating bouts of vertigo (feeling as if you’re spinning uncontrollably), problems with balance, hissing and roaring in the ears and can create pressure in your ears making them feel like they may burst. Meniere’s disease is also characterized by fluctuating hearing loss, which can eventually result in permanent hearing loss. While it can happen to people of any age, Meniere’s Disease is most common between the ages of 20 and 50.

Meniere’s Disease presents itself in “attacks” with increased Tinnitus, nausea and vomiting often preceding a bout. Lasting for two to three hours at a time it can take up to a few days for the symptoms of these attacks to completely disappear.

Meniere’s Disease is relatively rare, only affecting about one in 1500 people. It appears that there may be some hereditary aspects to it however, as seven to ten percent of sufferers have a family member who also experiences the condition.

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What are the symptoms of Meniere’s Disease?

Symptoms of Meniere’s Disease can vary greatly from person to person, and can include:

  • Hearing loss. Hearing loss in Meniere’s disease may come and go, particularly early on. Eventually, most people have some permanent hearing loss.
  • Recurring attacks of vertigo. With sufferers experiencing an uncontrollable spinning sensation that begins and ends spontaneously, Meniere’s Disease attacks can come on without warning and can last for several hours. Severe vertigo can also result in sickness and vomiting
  • Tinnitus: Tinnitus is a ringing or buzzing in your ears, which you can hear even when you are in a quiet place
  • A “fullness” in your ear (aural fullness). Meniere’s disease sufferers often experience pressure in the affected ears or at the side of their heads

The severity of Meniere’s Disease is also very variable; however, the condition can be divided into three “stages” of severity, with “Stage 1” sufferers experiencing attacks of vertigo which are few and far between characterized by increased vertigo and hearing loss only during attacks. “Stage 2” Meniere’s sufferers experience permanent hearing loss, dizziness, problems with balance, vertigo and severe Tinnitus during attacks. “Stage 3” sufferers are the most severely affected, developing hypersensitivity to sound, permanent injury to their balance organs meaning perpetual unsteadiness on their feet as well as hearing loss which lasts beyond an attack.

What are the causes of Meniere’s Disease?

The root cause of Meniere’s Disease isn’t entirely clear, although it is thought to be a result of an abnormal amount of fluid in the inner ear. The symptoms of Meniere’s disease are caused by a buildup of fluid in the labyrinth, a section of the inner ear. This compartment contains the balance organs (the semicircular canals and otolithic organs) and hearing organ (the cochlea) which are drastically affected by this increased pressure.

Factors thought to contribute to Meniere’s Disease include:

  • Improper fluid drainage, perhaps due to a blockage or abnormality in the anatomy of the ear
  • Viral or bacterial infections
  • Allergies
  • Abnormal immune response
  • Genetic predisposition to Meniere’s
  • Head injuries
  • Migraines/Headaches

What available treatments are there?

Currently, there is no cure for Meniere’s Disease. Consequently, most Meniere’s disease treatments are aimed at either reducing the severity and frequency of attacks. Common treatments options include:

  • Diets low in salt can help to help control water retention and also help reduce pressure in the fluid of your inner ear
  • Anti-nausea and vertigo medications
  • Vestibular rehabilitation therapy to help individuals strengthen their ability to balance, walk and perform everyday tasks

Preventative medication can also be administered to avoid attacks. This medication doesn’t treat the Meniere’s Disease itself, but rather treats the symptoms of vertigo, nausea and dizziness which characterize Meniere’s attacks. These medications can include antihistamines and are prescribed to be taken when the sufferer feels an attack is imminent.

Surgery can be helpful in combatting vertigo by destroying the part of the inner ear which sends balance and hearing impulses to the brain. However, as this can result in profound deafness if complications occur, it is an absolute last resort.

Find out more about some other causes of hearing loss here

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