Overview

Symptoms

Menière’s disease is a condition that affects the fluid balance of the inner ear. What you need to know in this context is that the inner ear consists of the organ of equilibrium and the organ of hearing (cochlear). Both organs have semicircular canals filled with liquids. When patients suffer a Menière’s attack, however, these canals overfill, resulting in serious problems for the inner ear.
The three classic symptoms of Menière’s disease are:
  • Severe rotary vertigo lasting from a few minutes to several hours
  • Deafness (particularly in the deep tone range and most often, on one side only)
  • Tinnitus (Tinnitus)
Other side effects from Menière's Disease can also be:
  • Uncomfortable ear pressure
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Severe sweating
  • Trembling of the eye (Nystagmus)
Menière’s disease most frequently develops in patients between the ages of 20 and 50 and usually only affects one ear. If the condition persists for a long time, however, the chances that it will also affect the other ear can increase. Due to the long-lasting rotary vertigo many patients suffer from nausea that can even result in vomiting. Their consciousness, however, remains unaffected during the attacks.

Patients suffering from Menière’s Disease often experience high-anxiety during attacks, especially if they are undiagnosed and do not understand what is affecting them. Thus, there is a definitive psychological impact from Menière’s Disease that must not be underestimated. Days, weeks, months and even years can pass between individual attacks. On a positive note, the number of rotary vertigo attacks often decreases during the course of the disease.

Causes

The precise causes of Menière’s are unknown, but scientists have a few ideas. One possible cause, could be a rupture of the Reissner’s membrane, a thin cell membrane inside the cochlear of the inner ear. When this membrane ruptures, a liquid (potassium-poor perilymph) exits, increasing the pressure in the cochlear of the affected ear. Viral infections causing an inflammation of the inner ear are suspected to be another likely culprit.

If you are experiencing the symptoms described above, consult an audiologist as dizziness, tinnitus and hearing loss can also be caused by other conditions and are not always attributable to an attack of Menière’s Disease.

Diagnosis

Symptoms of Menière’s Disease are also common in other hearing disorders. This is why it is so important to seek a diagnosis from a hearing health care professional. The audiologist will run several tests to diagnose the disease and identify possible causes. A typical examination could include peering into the inner ear using small mirrors and/or otoscope. A two-way hearing test is also common to determine if there is hearing loss on a particular side. Since dizziness is a symptom, your audiologist will also test the organ of equilibrium, your eyes, and consult your medical history to rule out other possibilities.

Deafness in sufferers of Menière’s Disease

Deafness is among the main symptoms of Menière’s disease. In most cases, however, the hearing loss only affects one side. In the beginning, deafness only occurs during the attack and will subside afterwards. Prolonged illness can result in permanent sensorineural hearing loss. The type of deafness typical for Menière’s Disease includes deep tones which can increasingly making hearing more difficult. 

Treatment

Currently, there is no known cure for Menière’s Disease. Scientists are still looking to pinpoint the cause of the disease. But treatments do exist and are categorized into acute treatment during an attack or preventative measures.
Because dizziness and nausea are the most common symptoms, anti-vertigo and anti-nausea medication can be given to patients. Another option is to prescribe drugs (gentamycin) to deactivate the organ of equilibrium which might put an end to the patient’s fits of dizziness. However, this could adversely affect the patient’s hearing.
For more advanced cases, there are several surgical procedures to prevent such episodes. In some cases, surgeons have severed the patient’s balance nerve (neurectomy) which puts a permanent end to dizziness. Another form of treatment is a saccotomy during which pressure is relieved by means of a tiny opening being poked into a part of the inner ear.

Living with the Condition

Because there is no known cure for Menière’s Disease patients have had to learn to live with it. Many people coping with Menière’s Disease have improved their conditions with:
  • Balance Training
  • Regular Exercise
  • Relaxation
Leading a healthy lifestyle can have a positive impact on the frequency and severity of attacks. To minimize the effects of Menière’s Disease, doctors recommend:   
  • Don't smoke
  • Eat low-sodium / high-potassium foods
  • Avoid stress