Have you ever felt unexpectedly dizzy, like you cannot stand up any longer? This phenomenon is considered vertigo. There are many causes of vertigo, such as a blow to the head, a migraine or an infection. One cause which is rare but rather serious is Ménière disease. This disorder occurs in the inner ear and can seriously impact balance and hearing ability.
Understanding Ménière Disease
Ménière disease was first discovered in 1816 by French physician Prosper Ménière who first linked symptoms of vertigo, tinnitus, nausea, pressure in the ears and hearing issues to a single cause. This cause originated in the inner ear where balance and hearing are controlled.
Ménière disease usually begins as short episodes which can last just a few minutes or many hours. At first, the episodes tend to come on rarely, with months or even years between attacks, but as the condition progresses, episodes can become increasingly frequent.
What Causes Ménière’s?
No one completely understands what causes this condition, but many specialists suspect that the cause may be a result of genetics and environmental factors. Ménière disease is thought to be related to abnormalities of the inner ear which contains structures that are needed for normal hearing and balance. It is believed that the hearing issues and tinnitus are a result of fluctuation of fluid levels of the inner ear. Canals that loop around your inner when you move your head moves the fluid as well, stimulating tiny hair-like cells in the inner ear which report the position of your head to your brain. When the fluid is disrupted, this can directly affect your brain’s ability to interpret balance and position causing vertigo. Many speculate that even a change in seasons may be a cause of Ménière disease, as seasonal allergies irritate your inner ear and may cause fluctuations in the fluid level in your ears.
This condition rarely affects children and teens, most commonly affecting people in late adulthood. Most commonly beginning in one ear an attack most often comes unexpected with little to no warning. An attack will make a person nauseous and dizzy, causing extreme exhaustion. It is common for a person to need to rest directly after an attack which can be as brief as 20 minutes or less a complete day. What is elusive about this condition is that most have no symptoms between attacks which can happen sporadically. However, over time a person affected by this disorder will struggle with chronic unsteadiness, tinnitus and a sensation of fullness in the ears. Many will also develop hearing loss overtime which is irreversible.
Diagnosing and Treating Ménière’s Disease
There are many causes of vertigo so to diagnose Ménière disease, abnormal results of a caloric stimulation test of eye reflexes can separate this condition from others. Other doctors have had success in identifying this disease by using an electrocochleography, MRI scan or electronystagmography (ENG). Because it has been discovered that the symptoms of Ménière disease are caused by fluctuations in the fluid of the inner ear, controlling your body’s intake of salt can help to control the fluids in your ear. Dietary changes such as a low salt diet, which reduces water retention can be successful in limiting or preventing attacks. For most who suffer from this condition a sodium intake of about 2000 mg daily can keep episodes at bay.
Others have found success in medications. Diuretics work by restricting the overproduction of fluid in the inner ear which can cause the fullness feeling of a Ménière’s attack. Diuretics are a medication which must be taken daily and for years to be effective. Another medication which has been found effective are over-the- counter anti-nausea medications such as Dramamine. This type of treatment is helpful during or in recovery from an attack.
When these methods are non-responsive and the attacks continue with more frequency, surgery may help. While rare, these treatments include a cochleo-sacculotomy which is a manual draining of the ears or Vestibular nerve sectioning, in which a neurosurgeon destroys nerves which are misfiring signals about balance.
For individuals with Ménières disease who have also experienced issues with hearing, there is help! Hearing aids are life changing, tiny devices that amplify sounds, so you don’t have to struggle to hear. If Ménière disease has affected your hearing don’t put off dealing with this condition and schedule a hearing test today.