Meniere’s disease affects roughly 1 in 1,500 people, but what exactly is it and can it be treated?
What is Meniere’s disease?
Meniere’s disease is a chronic disorder that impacts the inner ear affecting both hearing and balance. It can present itself at any age but most commonly occurs in middle aged adults.
While the exact cause is still unknown, doctors do believe it is related to an increase of pressure or fluid in the inner ear. The excess fluid and pressure is what leads to both the hearing and balance issues that are experienced by those with the disorder.
What are the symptoms of Meniere’s disease?
There are four primary symptoms of Meniere’s disease however there have been reports of other less common symptoms as well. These symptoms can come and go which are referred to as episodes. Episodes can last twenty minutes or multiple hours at a time, they can also be frequent or occasional.
- Hearing loss– With Meniere’s disease, hearing loss comes and goes with each episode. Eventually, after enough episodes and time, hearing loss tends to become permanent.
- Sudden vertigo– Vertigo is a sudden feeling of extreme dizziness. There are known triggers that can bring on vertigo however with Meniere’s disease it can occur randomly as well with no warning. In severe cases of vertigo, it can lead to nausea.
- Tinnitus– Tinnitus is the medical term for ringing or buzzing in the ears. It is an internal sound that only the person experiencing it can hear.
- Aural fullness- Aural fullness is the term used to describe a feeling of fullness or pressure in the ears.
Other rare symptoms can include fatigue or disoriented thinking known as brain fog. Occasionally during an episode, a person may have nystagmus (rapid eye movement from side to side) or diplacusis (double hearing).
Triggers of Meniere’s episodes
Every person with Meniere’s disease can have different triggers. These triggers impact different symptoms and to various degrees. However anything that increases pressure in the inner ear is likely to cause an episode. Below are just a few of the possible triggers for a Meniere’s disease episode.
- Alcohol consumption
- Increase in stress
- Weather changes
Stages of Meniere’s disease
There is not a single test that can be administered to diagnosis Meniere’s disease. Typically, it is diagnosed after tracking and reporting symptoms and ruling out other conditions. Symptoms that develop over time are categorized into three stages: early, middle, and late stage.
- Early stage– In early stage of Meniere’s disease, a person can experience all four primary symptoms lasting from twenty minutes to hours at a time. The symptoms, including hearing loss, are all temporary, and the person will return to their baseline after the episode has resolved.
- Middle stage– In the middle stage of Meniere’s disease, vertigo symptoms tend to lessen while hearing loss and tinnitus start to worsen. There may also be longer stretches in between the occurrence of episodes.
- End stage- In end stage Meniere’s disease, vertigo is often mild and rare, some may stop experiencing it all together. Hearing loss and tinnitus will continue to get worse contributing to balance issues.
Living with Meniere’s disease
When living with Meniere’s disease, knowing and understanding your triggers is vital. You may begin to know signs that an episode is coming on, which will allow time to get in a safe environment or lay down before it worsens.
Depression and anxiety are both possible in Meniere’s patients. Speak with your healthcare provider if you are experiencing these symptoms along with your Meniere’s disease.
Treatment options can be for the short term, with the episodes, as well as in the long term over time. When an episode begins, it is recommended to lie down and focus on a non-moving object. Sometimes, doctors prescribe anti-anxiety or anti-nausea medications to help with symptoms as well.
In the long term, hearing loss from Meniere’s disease tends to impact the lower frequencies of sound permanently. After a hearing test, an audiologist may recommend hearing aids to treat the hearing loss.
Meniere’s is a complex disorder that is still not fully understood. If you have Meniere’s disease, make an appointment with an audiologist to establish a baseline hearing test.
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