Overview:

Causes

While the precise cause of Menière’s disease is currently unknown, scientists have a few ideas. One of the primary theories is it's tied to a rupture of the Reissner's Membrane, a thin cell membrane within the cochlea, a spiral-shaped cavity in the inner ear involved in hearing. When this membrane ruptures, a liquid known as potassium-poor perilymph leaks out, leading to increased pressure in the inner ear.

Viral infections may be another cause of the disease, as they often result in inflammation and excess fluids.

Symptoms

Meniere’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 Meniere’s attack, however, these canals overfill, resulting in serious problems for the inner ear. The three classic main symptoms of Meniere’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)
However, the disease also causes several side effects such as:
  • Ear pressure
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Severe sweating
  • Trembling of the eye (Nystagmus)
Meniere’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, 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. This sometimes results in a spiral of fear in patient’s suffering from Meniere’s disease: They are afraid of suffering another attack which makes them feel stressed. Thus, the psychological aspect of Meniere’s disease 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.

Diagnosis

Because Menière’s Disease shares symptoms with multiple other hearing disorders, diagnosing it can be difficult. In most cases, the surest indicator that a hearing issue is caused by Menière’s and not another condition is that there is only hearing loss in one ear. In the beginning, deafness only occurs during an attack, and subsides afterward.

Prolonged illness, however, can result in permanent sensorineural hearing loss, particularly where deep tones are concerned. 

Treatment

Currently, there is no known cure for Menière’s Disease, as scientists are still attempting to pinpoint the exact cause.

However, treatments do exist, both for during an attack and as preventative measures. First, because dizziness and nausea are the most common symptoms, anti-vertigo and anti-nausea medication can be prescribed to a patient. A doctor may also prescribe a drug such as gentamycin to deactivate the vestibular apparatus, which may put an end to the patient's vertigo - this may, however, adversely impact the patient's hearing.
 
For more advanced cases, surgery may be an option. In some cases, severing the patient's balance nerve can put a permanent end to vertigo. Another common treatment is known as a sacculotomy, which involves poking a tiny opening into part of the inner ear to relieve pressure.

Although a permanent cure does not exist, a healthy lifestyle goes a long way towards improving the condition and helping a patient live with Menière’s Disease. Many people coping with the illness have reduced the frequency and severity of attacks by avoiding cigarettes, eating low sodium/high-potassium foods, and avoiding stressful situations. Regular exercise, balance training, and meditation may also be helpful.

How can sufferers live with the condition?

Since the causes of Menière’s disease are not fully known, there are no general measures to prevent it or treat an occurrence. Instead, patients have to learn to live with it. Many sufferers of Menière’s disease think that
  • balance training
  • exercise
  • and relaxation
helps them deal with their condition, even though there is no scientific evidence to prove it.
Leading a healthy lifestyle once the disease has been diagnosed is definitely not a bad idea, however. The following is recommended:
  • don't smoke
  • eat food low in sodium and rich in potassium
  • avoid stress
If you have noticed symptoms such as rotary vertigo and deafness on yourself, we recommend consulting your audiologist.