What is Meniere’s disease?
This is a rare medical condition that occurs in the inner ear and impacts the ability to hear and balance. It is common knowledge that the inner ear is responsible for hearing, but not everyone knows it is responsible for balance as well. Therefore, a disease such as Meniere's can have serious affects on a person. The condition varies from one person to another, representing a mild disturbance to some and a disabling disease to others. Regardless of the severity of its signs and symptoms, they remain more or less similar in either case. Meniere’s disease is a chronic condition with long-term symptoms, but there are treatment options available and lifestyle changes you can make to help your case.
What causes Meniere’s disease?
Symptoms of Meniere’s disease are attributed to the build-up of endolymph in the inner ear. This fluid is found naturally in the inner ear and it helps regular ear functions. However, due to the disease, the fluid builds up and creates pressure in the inner ear. The fluid and pressure also affect the semi-circular canals in the inner ear that are responsible for balance. This accumulation of endolymph is referred to as hydrops, and the exact cause of the build-up is not known. Regardless, statistics show that about 190 out of every 100,000 people are affected by the condition, although the symptoms vary in severity from one person to the other.
Signs and symptoms of Meniere’s disease
- Vertigo - Sufferers of Meniere’s disease experience recurrent episodes of rotational vertigo. The episodes are unpredictable and can sometimes be very severe and disabling. Usually, vertigo doesn’t last for more than 24 hours but there have been cases where the sufferer experienced vertigo for days and even weeks.
- Tinnitus - Experiences of vertigo among Meniere’s disease sufferers are also often accompanied by a low roaring, ringing or hissing sound in the ear.
- Hearing loss - Another common symptom of the condition is the temporary loss of hearing. The intensity of the loss may fluctuate during a single episode of vertigo and may be experienced in one or both ears. Most sufferers of the condition will suffer hearing loss in one ear but the symptom will usually progress to affect both ears over time. Others may also experience distortion in sounds, rather than a complete hearing loss, whereby sounds becomes tinny.
- Aural fullness - Some people affected by the condition might also feel like their ear or both ears are full due to pressure.
The above symptoms are unique to Meniere’s disease, but the sufferer may also experience other symptoms that result from these conditions. Signs like nausea, vomiting and sweating may arise due to the occurrence of vertigo, along with nystagmus. Another rare sign is Tumarkin attacks, which is a sudden fall (drop attacks) without the loss of consciousness. Although less than 10% of sufferers experience this, those who do explain it as a feeling of being pushed sharply to the floor from behind, causing a fall.
Symptoms of this disease usually escalate with time, becoming more severe and affecting more parts of the ear.
Diagnosis of Meniere’s disease
For a diagnosis of Meniere’s disease, there must be about two to three symptoms experienced, and these should occur during the same discrete episodes. This is because there are other medical conditions that may cause one or two symptoms that are similar to Meniere’s disease’s, but are actually not. Your doctor will likely perform other tests or order exams on your balance and hearing to eliminate other possible causes.
Treatment of Meniere’s disease
There is no cure for Meniere’s disease, but the condition is manageable once diagnosed through various methods. Some of these include changes to the diet, physical exercise and sometimes even surgery. Given below are some treatment methods.
One of the most disabling symptoms of an attack of Meniere’s disease is dizziness. Prescription drugs can reduce this symptom by diminishing the dizziness. Medication to treat motion sickness can also be used to treat symptoms of vertigo like nausea and vomiting. Since Meniere's is linked to an accumulation of fluid within the ear, your doctor might prescribe a drug that will decrease your body's fluid. A diuretic, for example, would cause your body to excrete more urine and therefore decrease fluid levels. There is also medication available that your doctor can inject into your ear to help restore your balance and therefore lessen symptoms such as vertigo.
Symptoms of vertigo can cause significant disruptions in the daily life of a person suffering from Meniere’s. There are a number of rehabilitation and therapy methods that can aid with symptoms. For instance, people with this condition may want to visit a physical therapist who can provide vestibular rehabilitation exercises to reduce balance issues.
Surgery is rarely required for those with Meniere’s disease. It is only resorted to in cases where all other treatments have failed to relieve dizziness. Some surgical procedures are performed on the endolymphatic sac to decompress it. Another possible surgery is to cut the vestibular nerve, although this occurs less frequently.
Home-treatment and self-care
There are several things you can do at home to ease and lessen your symptoms.
Meniere's disease can progress if the levels and amount of fluid in the inner ear is not controlled or treated. Reducing the intake of salt in your diet is one way to combat the condition. The more salt you consume, they more fluid your body will produce. So maintaining a low sodium diet is one way you can control you fluid levels to reduce the chance of increases or fluctuations in the fluid levels in the inner ear. Taking diuretics (water pills) help some people control dizziness by reducing the amount of fluid the body retains, which may help lower fluid volume and pressure in the inner ear.
It’s also important to stay hydrated so your body doesn't retain water. Try your best to drink the recommended amount of six to eight glasses of water per day.
Some people claim that caffeine, chocolate, and alcohol make their symptoms worse and either avoid or limit them in their diet. Not smoking also may help lessen the symptoms.
Involving family members in your coping strategies will also help the patient immensely.