Meniere’s disease is a type of inner ear disorder. Discovered in 1861, it is named after the doctor who first came across the condition. Meniere’s disease can have several effects including pressure in the ears, tinnitus (ringing or clicking in the ears), and can contribute to balance issues. Though Meniere’s disease is comparatively rare (impacting nearly 1 in 1,500 people), it is incurable. Treatment options focuses on managing and alleviating symptoms
What Causes Meniere’s Disease?
Meniere’s disease involves an accumulation of fluid and pressure in the inner ear. This occurs in the inner ear’s labyrinth which is composed of semicircular canals, otolithic organs, and the cochlea. While exact causes of Meniere’s disease are unknown, experts have a few suggestions. A few factors they think can contribute to the development of this inner ear condition include: constructed blood vessels, viral infections, and autoimmune conditions. Additionally, Meniere’s disease can run in families which can mean that genetic variations can impact fluid regulation in the inner ear.
What Are the Symptoms of Meniere’s Disease?
Meniere’s disease is a condition that can impact people of any age but it is most prevalent in adults over the age of 40. It can be experienced differently and symptoms often match symptoms of a range of conditions which can make it challenging to diagnose. There are four symptoms that are used to specifically identify Meniere’s disease. These are:
- Tinnitus: a ringing or buzzing like noise that is heard in one or both ears.
- Difficulties hearing, hearing loss.
- Feeling pressure or fullness in the ears.
- Two or more episodes of vertigo that each last at least 20 minutes.
Dizziness can happen in various ways including suddenly, after experiencing tinnitus, single attacks intermittently, or bouts of dizziness that happen back to back. Dizziness and vertigo can be significant, causing people to lose their balance or experience falls (known as drop attacks).
How Are Balance Issues & Hearing Loss Connected to Meniere’s Disease?
Meniere’s disease involves the labyrinth which also comprises components of the auditory system – the sensory system for hearing. The semicircular canals in the labyrinth as well as the otolith organs contain receptors that send signals to the brain about the body’s position and movement. Also in the labyrinth is the cochlea which contains thousands of sensory cells. These sensory cells receive incoming soundwaves and convert them into electrical signals which then get carried to the brain. The brain further processes these signals, including assigning meaning to them; allowing us to understand what we hear. Meniere’s disease occurs when fluid and pressure builds up in the labyrinth and this can disrupt signals being sent – signals pertaining to balance and sound – to the brain. This can then lead to balance issues and/or hearing challenges.
How is Meniere’s Disease Diagnosed?
Diagnosing Meniere’s disease does not involve a single test or straightforward process because there are no definitive causes. But diagnosing this condition involves first being examined by an ear specialist like an ENT (ear, nose, throat) doctor which is also known as an otolaryngologist. They will discuss your medical history, evaluate your symptoms, and they may perform a hearing test. Hearing tests involve a painless and noninvasive process which measures your hearing capacities in both ears. Through this process, your doctor will identify if you experience the main symptoms of Meniere’s disease (tinnitus. dizziness spells, hearing challenges and feeling fullness or pressure in the ear).
How is Meniere’s Disease Treated?
Treatment for Meniere’s disease focuses on strategies to best alleviate symptoms, helping people navigate everyday life with greater safety and wellness. Treatment options can include:
- Medications: you may be prescribed medications to help alleviate common symptoms like nausea and dizziness.
- Injections: getting steroid injections in the middle ear can help alleviate vertigo.
- Dietary & behavioral changes: your doctor may work with you to reduce or eliminate consumption of triggers like caffeine, alcohol, smoking, chocolate, etc. which can worsen symptoms.
- Pressure pulse treatment: the FDA recently approved a device worn on the outer ear which delivers intermittent air pressure pulses to the middle ear. This can help prevent and/or alleviate dizziness.
If you experience any of the symptoms described, it is important to be assessed by an ear specialist. Contact us today to learn more about Meniere’s disease and the treatment options available.