By Denise DeWitt / EmpowHer Writer
Ménière's Disease is a disorder of the inner ear that can cause vertigo, fluctuating hearing loss, ringing in the ears, and a sensation of fullness in the ears. Men and women are equally likely to get Ménière's disease and most who have it are over 40 years old. According to the National Institute on Hearing and Other Communication Disorders, approximately 615,000 people have been diagnosed with Ménière's Disease in the United States.
Ménière's Disease Symptoms
The symptoms of Ménière's disease often occur suddenly without notice, and may recur daily or as infrequently as once a year.
•Vertigo – this is the sensation that the room is spinning. Vertigo typically occurs without warning and may last from 20 minutes to over two hours. Severe vertigo may cause nausea and vomiting.
•Tinnitus – a ringing, roaring, or buzzing sound in the ear or head
•Hearing loss – during an attack, hearing may diminish or fluctuate in the affected ear. In most cases, hearing returns to normal after an episode. But over time, most patients with Ménière's disease experience some degree of permanent hearing loss
•Fullness in the ear – patients often report a sensation of fullness or pressure in the ear during and sometimes prior to a Ménière's attack.
Causes of Ménière's Disease
The balance center of the ear is located in a portion of the inner ear known as the labyrinth. This portion of the ear is filled with fluid called endolymph. The volume or amount of fluid in the labyrinth must remain at a constant level in order for the balance center to work correctly.
In Ménière's disease, this fluid level changes, which causes the balance center to malfunction. Many experts believe that Ménière's disease is caused when fluids from outside the membrane of the labyrinth are able to mix with the endolymph inside the labyrinth. When too much fluid is present inside the labyrinth, the membrane balloons or swells as pressure increases. In most patients, Ménière's disease starts in only one ear, but may extend to both ears over time.
Diagnosing Ménière's Disease
A diagnosis of Ménière's Disease will include these symptoms:
•Two separate episodes of vertigo, each lasting at least 20 minutes
•Tinnitus or fullness of the ear
Diagnosing Ménière's disease includes a variety of tests to help rule out other causes for the typical symptoms of the disease. Tests may include:
•Physical exam – the doctor will conduct a general physical exam and medical history interview.
•Hearing tests – tests will determine how well you hear sounds at different pitches and volumes. They can also determine whether any hearing loss is due to an issue with the inner ear or due to a problem with the nerve that carries the sound signal to the brain.
•Balance tests – doctors irrigate the ears with warm and cool air or water and study how these temperature variations affect the movement of the muscles that control rapid eye movement. Depending on the result of this test, other balance tests may also be performed.
•MRI – Magnetic Resonance Imaging can be used to rule out tumors and other physical abnormalities.
Managing the Symptoms
Consider these tips to help reduce the impacts of an attack of Ménière's Disease:
•Sit or lie down – as soon as you feel the start of vertigo or spinning, sit or lie down. Avoid sudden movements, bright lights, and don’t watch television or try to read.
• Get rest – don’t try to rush back to normal activities after an attack of vertigo.
•Be careful of your balance – be aware that you could lose your balance at any time. Use good lighting if you get up at night and consider using a cane if you have chronic balance problems.
•Avoid driving – if you have frequent attacks of vertigo, limit your risk of having an accident by no driving or operating heavy machinery.
Treating Ménière's Disease
At the present time, there is no cure for Ménière's disease. But there are a number of treatments to help control symptoms:
•Medications for vertigo and nausea
•Diet to control fluid retention
•Eat regularly – regularly spaced meals help the body regulate fluid levels
•Limit salt – excess salt encourages the body to retain fluids
•Avoid MSG – MSG is a type of sodium that is sometimes added to foods as a flavor enhancer
•Avoid caffeine – chocolate, tea, coffee, and some soft drinks have stimulant properties that can make symptoms worse.
•Stop smoking – avoiding nicotine may lessen symptoms
•Manage stress and anxiety – reducing stress may lessen the severity of symptoms and make it easier to cope with the symptoms that remain.
•Meniett Device – a non-invasive treatment option is a pressure pulse generator that sends small pulses of pressure into the ear canal. Approximately 70 percent of patients report significant improvement with the use of this device manufactured by Medtronic®.
•Surgery – in severe cases of vertigo, surgery may be an option to reduce symptoms. There are several procedures that your doctor may consider, depending on your level of hearing loss in the affected ear.