Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments of Meniere's Disease

Affecting roughly 0.2% of the total population in the United States or 615,000 people), Meniere's disease is an inner ear disorder that's still not well-understood by the medical community. It is also know as idiopathic endolymphatic hydrops. We'll go over what we do know about the condition. Let's discuss the symptoms, risk factors, and possible treatments.

What is Meniere's Disease?

The first thing you need to understand is that calling Meniere's a disease may be a misnomer. There is as yet no clear indication that the condition is directly linked to either viral or genetic factors. Complicating matters even further is that Meniere's presents differently in different people.
The simplest definition we can give of Meniere's disease is that it is an inner ear disorder marked by recurrent periods of vertigo, which is the one commonality between different patient's suffering from the condition.

What Causes Meniere's Disease?

The short answer to what causes Meniere's disease is that we don't know. Some have suggested it's tied to genetic factors. Others believe it's the result of allergies or a side-effect of an autoimmune disorder. Still others believe it's connected to an abnormal change in the fluid present within the inner ear.

What are the Symptoms of Meniere's Disease?

Meniere's generally manifests recurrently, and it usually isn't an ongoing affliction. Unfortunately, Meniere's attacks, like the condition itself, rarely follow a set pattern. Per American Hearing, a Meniere's attack typically starts with a few minor precursor symptoms before progressing into an episode of vertigo.

First, you might experience a feeling of fullness or pressure in one ear, similar to the symptoms of an ear infection. You might alternatively experience tinnitus or impaired hearing. If you're especially unlucky, you might experience a combination of the symptoms, perhaps even all three.

Next comes the attack itself. You'll be washed over by a wave of vertigo, often accompanied by one or more of the following symptoms.

  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Imbalance
  • Trembling and weakness
  • Cold sweat
  • Rapid pulse
  • Diarrhea

Length and Severity of a Meniere's Disease Attack

The length and severity of a Meniere's attack will vary. In some cases, it may be relatively mild, an inconvenient bout of unpleasantness that's over in less than twenty minutes. In other cases, it may disable you for multiple days at a time, with vertigo and imbalance so severe that you collapse—typically referred to as a drop attack.

Meniere's attacks also vary in frequency, from several times a week to once every several months.

Meniere's also tends to increase in severity as the condition progresses. You may notice your tinnitus no longer disappears after an attack. You might experience ongoing hearing loss, or even constant balance and vision problems.

For additional reading, you can learn more about the 3 Stages of Meniere's Disease.

How is Meniere's Disease Diagnosed?

Typically, Meniere's Disease is diagnosed in the same way as other hearing disorders. The first step is to visit an audiologist. They'll start with a general hearing and balance test while also asking you to self-report about any instances of vertigo you've experienced in the past month or year.

How is Meniere's Disease Treated?

There is no known cure for Meniere's disease. As with other incurable ear disorders, however, there are treatments to reduce the severity of symptoms. These treatments for Meniere's Disease include:

  • Medication. Antihistamines, anti-nausea medicine, and medicine prescribed for motion sickness may all help reduce the severity of Meniere's attacks. A doctor might also prescribe diuretics to help manage fluid buildup.
  • Physiotherapy. Similar to how white noise can train the brain to 'live with' tinnitus, you can undergo physiotherapy to help your body and brain grow used to the vertigo associated with Meniere's. 
  • Lifestyle Changes. Switching to a low-salt diet, adopting an exercise routine, and eliminating potentially harmful drugs such as caffeine and nicotine may all help mitigate the symptoms of Meniere's. 

How Do I Know If I'm At Risk For Developing Meniere's Disease?

Unfortunately, you can't know if you at risk for developing Meniere's Disease. Although Meniere's Disease most commonly manifests in people between the age of forty and fifty, it's not strictly limited by age. Because doctors aren't yet clear on the specific risk factors associated with the disorder, it's impossible to say how one might avoid experiencing it.

With that said, it should follow that maintaining good physical and aural health may reduce the risk of developing Meniere's. Make sure you always get a full night's rest, eat properly, and take care of your hygiene. More importantly, schedule regular appointments with your audiologist.

The information in this blog article is created for educational and informational purposes only. Do not use the information as a substitute for or replacement for professional medical advice. If you have any questions related to your hearing health, please consult with a health care professional.