by Kimberly Allen, RN
Meniere Disease is a condition affecting the inner ear. In the US, approximately 5 million people suffer from Meniere’s disease with approximately 100,000 new cases diagnosed every year. Though it usually affects only one ear up to 40% of those with Meniere’s disease are affected in both ears. It affects both males and females and usually begins when they are between 20 – 50 years of age, however, it is more common in people between 50-60 year. Unfortunately, people with Meniere’s disease frequently are unable to work due to the severity of attacks.
The cause of Meniere’s disease is somewhat of a mystery though most experts believe that it develops because of an anomaly in the way the fluid in the inner ear flows through the inner ear which leads to an abnormal amount or composition of fluid in your inner ear. Your inner ear is a group of cavities and passages known as the laybrinth. The outside is composed of bone and in the inside is a soft membrane structure that is shaped the same as the bone though slightly smaller. The membrane structure is lined with tiny hair like sensors and contains fluid called endolymph. The tiny hair like sensors react to the movement of the endolymph. However, the sensors only work properly when the endolymph is at a specific volume and pressure as well as the proper chemical composition.
There are a variety of factors that can affect this delicate balance including abnormal drainage of fluid, usually due to an anatomical anomaly or a blockage, allergies or an abnormal immune response. Other things that can trigger Meniere’s disease are a genetic predisposition, viral infection, migraines and head trauma. Most experts believe that a combination of factors rather than a single factor that leads to Meniere’s disease.
The most common symptoms of Meniere’s disease includes episodes of vertigo or dizziness that reoccur. These episodes tend to develop without warning and can last anywhere from 20 minutes to 24 hours. Sometimes they are so severe the cause nausea and vomiting. Early in Meniere’s disease you may experience hearing loss that comes and goes, however, sooner or later most people diagnosed with Meniere’s disease will suffer some amount of permanent hearing loss. Most people also experience a “buzzing” or ringing in their ear as well as increased pressure or a feeling of fullness in their ear. Most of these episodes occur in clusters with periods of remission in between.
Though there is no cure for Meniere’s disease most people, as many as 95% of those diagnosed, are able to manage their condition with medical management. The main objective in managing Meniere’s disease is to protect the inner ear from stressors. Your Dr may prescribe such medications as Antivert or Valium. Anti nausea medications like promethazine to help control the nausea and vomiting. Other people with Meniere’s disease benefit from antibiotic therapy with Gentamiacin which is toxic to your middle ear reducing the function of the affected ear allowing your other ear to take on the responsibility for balance and function. Steroids like dexamthasone has also been used to help control the episodes of vertigo in some people. If the episodes of vertigo are severe and debilitating and you are unable to get relief with other options your Dr may discuss surgical options.
Meniere’s disease can significantly impact your quality of life as well as your ability to interact with family and friends, it can also affect your ability to be productive at work. This can lead to anxiety and depression so it may be helpful to join a support group. Support groups can not only provide support and coping strategies they can also provide you with information and resources. Your doctor should be able to recommend a group in your area.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.