What is Meniere’s Disease
Meniere’s Disease is a health condition that affects the inner ear. It is believed roughly 1 in 1,000 people in the UK suffer from the disease, with it being more prominent in adults, between 20-60, and slightly more common in women than men.
Meniere’s Disease is a progressive condition that impacts hearing and balance. This results in episodes of vertigo, tinnitus, hearing impairment and pressure build-up in the ear.
The increased pressure created in the ear by Meniere’s Disease means those living with the condition can experience episodes of dizziness, vomiting and impaired hearing. Episodes usually last a few hours but can take days to fully recover from and return to normal health.
The severity of each symptom and the frequency of which individuals experience problems associated with Meniere’s Disease varies from person to person. For some, vertigo, dizziness and vomiting may be the main symptoms, whereas for others, the impairment of hearing can be the main symptom.
If you think you may suffer from Meniere’s Disease, the most important first step is to contact your GP and get a medical diagnosis. Many of the symptoms can be caused by other illnesses and conditions, so getting a trusted diagnosis is important – from there, you can get the best management and treatment for your personal circumstances.
Causes of Meniere’s Disease
It is not fully understood what the causes of Meniere’s Disease are. There are many theories, but none have been widely accepted as the root cause of the condition.
A build up of fluid in the inner ear, called “endolymph,” is often associated with creating a build-up of pressure in the ear, that results in the various symptoms associated with the illness. This build-up of fluid is thought to be a common trait in suffers of Meniere’s Disease, but it’s not fully understood how this fluid build-up causes symptoms such as vertigo, dizziness and hearing impairment.
Potential causes that could impact the amount of fluid in the inner ear, include: a lack of fluid drainage, blockages, allergies, migraines, head injuries, or potentially a hereditary genetic predisposition.
Some believe it could be likely that a combination of factors leads to episodes, as opposed to a single factor.
Symptoms of Meniere’s Disease
A medical diagnosis is needed to decide if Meniere’s Disease is the cause, or whether something else is causing the Meniere’s Disease-like symptoms. For example, vertigo or loss of hearing could be caused by a multitude of reasons.
For causes of hearing loss, make sure you have a hearing test to understand the degree to which you’re experiencing impaired hearing.
If you experience any of the following symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor for a professional diagnose to understand what’s causing it and whether its Meniere’s Disease:
- Vertigo & Dizziness
- Loss of Hearing
- Balance Impairment
Symptoms of Meniere’s Disease vary from person to person, making it hard to summarise a universal experience of the condition. The frequency of symptoms can also vary, sometimes having remissions between episodes of days, or other times, years. This makes it hard to predict and manage as it’s relatively unknown when a patient will next be impaired by the disease.
The unpredictable episodes of vertigo and vomiting are the most notable symptoms of the illness. Tinnitus and other impairment to hearing are other common symptoms associated with Meniere’s Disease.
Meniere’s Disease is often thought to be categorised into 3 stages: early, middle and late. Each stage has a certain distinctive characteristic in the symptoms it presents, however, the progress of Meniere’s Disease means individuals may pass through each stage differently.
Generally, it is thought in the early stages of Meniere’s Disease, a patient may expect more episodes, and symptoms like vertigo and dizziness are more prominent. In later years of the condition, patients may experience fewer episodes and hearing loss becomes the most notable aspect of the condition.
Meniere’s Disease and Hearing Loss
In terms of hearing loss, the disease can be associated with the following for each stage:
Stage 1 – Hearing is impaired during episodes but returns to normal between each episode.
Stage 2 – Hearing fluctuates and doesn’t return to normal.
Stage 3 – Hearing loss is prominent.
The build-up of pressure and sudden release of pressure damages the inner ear and over time impairs hearing. If the inner ear is damaged, solutions such as hearing aids can potentially help limit the impact of this damage.
Treatment for Meniere’s Disease
Unfortunately, there is no definitive cure for Meniere’s Disease, but there are recommendations for managing the condition. Before trying to treat Meniere’s Disease, consult a doctor and get a professional diagnose that meets your specific circumstances.
The unpredictable nature of the disease makes it difficult to manage for many. It can impact the ability to drive, career opportunities, hobbies, and general lifestyle.
During an episode, the NHS recommends the following:
“Take your medication, sit or lie down, close your eyes, or keep them fixed on an object in front of you, don’t turn your head quickly, if you need to move, do so slowly and carefully. Once the attack is over, try to move around to help your eyesight and other senses compensate for the problems in your inner ear.”
For long-term treatment of the condition, your doctor may be able to prescribe certain medication or lifestyle recommendations to help reduce the impact of episodes. Certain diets are often encouraged, and medications such as Betahistine.