Ménière’s disease is a condition of the inner ear in which the patient experiences vertigo, or a specific feeling of dizziness or spinning. The disease can also cause other symptoms including tinnitus or ringing in the ear, a feeling of pressure or fullness in the ear, and hearing loss which comes and goes. Usually, only one ear is affected by Ménière’s disease, but the subsequent hearing loss can be permanent.
What causes Ménière’s disease?
When fluid builds up in the inner ear, called the labyrinth, it interferes with signals from your brain. The labyrinth contains structures which help you with balance, meaning interference can lead to vertigo and hearing loss. It’s not entirely understood why fluid builds up for some people in the inner ear. It can sometimes be due to:
- Drainage problems when there is an abnormal structure or blockage in the ear.
- Autoimmune response by your body where healthy cells are attacked by your immune system.
- An allergy or a viral infection
- A blow to the head
What are the symptoms?
Ménière’s disease is a progressive disease which begins with episodes of hearing loss that later develop into vertigo. Other than these symptoms, some people may also suffer from blurry vision, diarrhea, nausea, anxiety, trembling, cold sweat, and rapid pulse. When you experience an attack, it can last from about 15 minutes to 24 hours. It’s also possible that you experience a few attacks within a week or even months or years apart. As your condition continues to progress, you may experience different symptoms. The ringing in the ears and loss of hearing may become constant. There may be vision and balance issues at all times instead of occasionally.
How is Ménière’s disease diagnosed?
When you visit your ENT specialist with your symptoms, they will study your medical history and conduct a series of tests that check your hearing and balance. You may have to undergo these diagnostic tests:
Audiometric test – This tests for hearing loss in the ear affected by Ménière’s disease. You may have to undergo a speech discrimination test where your ability to distinguish between words like ‘sit’ and ‘fit’ is gauged.
Electronystagmogram – This is a test for checking your balance. You will be made to sit in a dark room where cool and warm air will blow through your ear canal and the ENT specialist will measure your eye movements.
Electrocochleography – This is a test for measuring the fluid pressure in the inner ear.
CT scan or MRI – These tests are done in order to rule out any other medical issues that could cause your symptoms.
Treatments for Ménière’s disease
Depending on your specific symptoms, there are different drug treatments that can help alleviate them. Motion sickness drugs help with reducing your vertigo while anti-nausea drugs help reduce vomiting. Diuretics might be prescribed to reduce fluid in your ears; you may also be asked to reduce the intake of salt in your diet. For an autoimmune problem, you may be given steroids. Therapy and hearing aids help with balance issues and hearing loss.
Some people do not respond to drug treatments and will require surgery for the condition. Here are some of the surgical options available:
Endolymphatic sac shunt – This is a surgery where your doctor will open and drain the part of the ear which reabsorbs fluid. It is performed under general anesthesia and you may have to spend the night at the hospital.
Vestibular nerve sectioning – During this surgery, the nerve which sends balance signals to the brain is destroyed. This stops the signals causing vertigo. You will require a neurosurgeon and an extended hospital stay for this procedure.
Labyrinthectomy – This is a procedure for those with bad vertigo and who do not hear very well either. The part of the ear which controls balance is destroyed, and you may require a few days of hospital stay. The procedure leads to hearing loss afterwards.
Schedule a Consultation
Ménière’s disease can have a large impact on your life. During a consultation with our ENT specialists, we can diagnose your symptoms and discuss your treatment options so that you can get back to your healthy, happy lifestyle. To schedule a consultation with our ENT specialists, contact our office by calling or filling out our online form.