by Kimberly Allen RN
Meniere’s disease is a disorder that affects the inner ear. Meniere’s disease is characterized by attacks of dizziness, ringing in the ears and a feeling of fullness or pressure in your ear that develops suddenly without warning. Meniere’s disease affects both men and women with no racial preference. It can develop in anyone at anytime even in children but it is more commonly diagnosed in people 40-60 years of age.
The exact cause of Meniere’s disease is not known, however Drs believe that it develops because of an abnormal level of fluid and/or the composition of the fluid in the inner ear. The inner ear is lined with sensors that detect the movement of the fluid in the inner ear. If there is a change in the amount of fluid, pressure or the chemical make up of the fluid it inhibits the ability of the sensors to function properly. Researchers have discovered a number of factors that can lead to Meniere’s disease and/or trigger attacks. One of the most commonly found issues is the inability of the fluidto drain properly due to either an anatomical abnormality or a blockage. Other factors that can lead to Meniere’s disease include impaired immune response, allergies, head trauma, viral infections and a genetic predisposition. Many believe that Meniere’s is caused by a combination of these factors.
The most common symptom of Meniere’s disease is the sudden onset of dizziness or vertigo. You feel like you stood and spun yourself around and around and then stopped. You’re stopped but the room is still spinning. These attacks of dizziness will usually last anywhere from 20 minutes to 24 hours. Another hallmark of Meniere’s disease is a “ringing” in your ear. It is frequently more like a low buzzing sound. You may also experience a feeling of fullness in your ear.
Meniere’s disease is a chronic condition with the frequency, duration and severity of attacks varying from person to person especially in the beginning. Some people may experience frequent attacks with only one symptom like severe dizziness and not notice other symptoms, while others may experience frequent episodes of ringing in the ears without dizziness or other significant symptoms. The unpredictable nature of Meniere’s disease is what causes most people the biggest problem. Frequently the attacks are so severe that you need to lie down for several hours. This can lead to lost time from work and/or other activities causing increased stress. The unpredictability of attacks can also lead to falls and accidents especially if they occur while driving or operating some type of machinery. Meniere’s disease can also lead to permanent hearing loss.
As there is no cure for Meniere’s disease treatment revolves around managing the symptoms. Drs have found that many people with Meniere’s disease respond to medications for motion sickness and nausea during an attack to reduce the severity of dizziness . Some Drs prescribe diuretics for long term therapy to reduce fluid retention. The belief is that by reducing the amount of fluid you retain it helps to regulate the amount of fluid and pressure in your ear. There is also a new therapy available for severe dizziness that is not relieved by other treatments called a Meniett Pulse Generator, it is a device that “applies pulses of positive pressure to the ear canal through a ventilation tube”. This is a treatment that you can do at home. There are also surgical options available if the symptoms are severely debilitating and unrelieved with other treatments.
The symptoms of Meniere’s disease can be debilitating and affect many areas of your life from how you interact with family and friends to how productive you are at work and diminish your general quality of life. It might be helpful to contact a support group for advice and help with coping strategies, updated information on treatments and resources available. Talk to your Dr for information on a group in your area.