Meniere's disease is a condition that involves abnormalities in the inner ear that causes hearing and balance problems. This condition usually occurs in only one ear and is most common among adults in their 40s and 50s. Over 600,000 people in the United States suffer from Meniere's disease. Although the symptoms can be distressing, there are various treatment options available for people who suffer from Meniere's disease.
Symptoms of Meniere's Disease
Symptoms of Meniere's disease may vary in frequency of episodes as well as intensity. Some patients may experience numerous episodes of symptoms within a short period of time followed by months or years without experiencing any symptoms. Symptoms of Meniere's disease may include:
- Vertigo, an intense sensation of spinning
- Hearing loss
- Tinnitus, a ringing in the ears
- Aural fullness, a feeling of fullness or pressure in the ear
Patients with Meniere's disease normally experience the symptoms in one ear, although in some cases, the symptoms may occur in both ears.
Cause of Meniere's Disease
Although the specific cause of Meniere's disease is not known, it is believed to be a result of an abnormal volume or composition of fluid in the inner ear. This may occur after a rupture of the membranous labyrinth, a portion of the inner ear. Within the inner ear, the membranous labyrinth contains fluid that must remain at a certain level, pressure and composition in order for all the sensors of the inner ear to work properly. Factors that may affect the inner ear fluid may cause Meniere's disease and may include:
- Viral Infections
- Damage or trauma to the inner ear
- Abnormal Immune system
- Head Trauma
Diagnosis of Meniere's Disease
Meniere's disease can be diagnosed by a doctor who will assess all of the symptoms and review the patient's medical history. A physical examination as well as additional tests for hearing and balance may be performed. Diagnostic tests may include:
- Neurological tests
- Blood tests
- Electronystagmogram to measure eye movement and muscle control
- Videonystagmography to evaluate balance function
- Vestibular tests to measure inner ear function
- CT scan
- Posturography, a balance test
Treatment of Meniere's Disease
While there is no cure for Meniere's disease, there are several treatment options available to help control the symptoms. A doctor may prescribe medication for episodes of vertigo, as well as recommend long-term medication and dietary changes to help reduce fluid retention. Other healthy lifestyle changes, such as avoiding caffeine, stress and alcohol, can also help improve symptoms.
A vestibular rehabilitation therapist can also assist patients by developing an individualized treatment plans that combines head, body, and eye exercises to decrease dizziness and nausea. Surgery on the vestibular organs may be recommended for patients whose symptoms cannot be controlled by more conservative methods. Surgery may involve removing part of the inner ear, decreasing fluid production or cutting the nerve that connects balance sensors and the inner ear.
It is important for patients with Meniere's disease to take take certain precautions in order to control episodes of vertigo and prevent injury. Some recommendations for patients while experiencing vertigo may include:
- Rest for a short period after an episode
- Sit or lie down as soon as dizziness occurs
- Avoid driving a motor vehicle
A doctor will assess each individual case in order to decide which treatment option is best for each patient.