Meniere’s disease refers to a disorder of the inner ear often characterised by a spinning sensation (vertigo), ringing in the ears (tinnitus) as well as various degrees of hearing loss that may culminate in deafness. It’s important to note that Meniere’s disease and Meniere’s syndrome are inter-related. When an underlying cause is detected, physicians make a diagnosis of Meniere’s syndrome. In the contrary, however, Meniere’s disease is only diagnosed when no underlying cause can be found after comprehensive evaluation.
Furthermore, it has been observed that this condition tends to start between 20 – 50 years of age in most cases. Only recently, Meniere’s disease came to public attention when President Buhari was reportedly diagnosed of the condition before he was flown abroad for treatment.
Highlighted in this article are a few salient facts you may wish to learn about this medical condition.
1. What causes Meniere’s disease?
It is important to note that the exact cause of this condition is not clearly understood yet. However, it’s been proposed that Meniere’s disease is likely to stem from a combination of factors which result in accumulation of fluid (endolymph) in the inner ear. Such contributing factors include improper fluid drainage due to an obstruction, viral infections, allergies, head trauma, brain tumors, abnormal immune response or a genetic predisposition among others. It is possible that a combination of some of these leads to Meniere’s disease.
2. What are the symptoms?
Since the inner ear is essential for maintaining body balance and posture, persons with Meniere’s often complain of repeated episodes of vertigo (spinning sensation) sometimes lasting for several hours and accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Also, it is not uncommon for them to complain of perceiving hissing, buzzing or whistling sounds in the affected ear. Furthermore, a feeling of fullness or pressure in the affected ear due to accumulated fluid is common. Lastly, some patients experience intermittent hearing loss that may eventually culminate in permanent deafness. Typically, after each episode of attack, these signs and symptoms tend to improve or disappear completely only to reoccur later.
3. How is Meniere’s disease diagnosed?
For a person who is experiencing the typical symptoms of Meniere’s, tests will be requested to evaluate the hearing and balance as well as detect any underlying cause of their symptoms. Audiometry helps to detect any degree of hearing loss. Other important tests include electrocochleography (ECoG), electronystagmography (ENG), rotary-chair testing, posturography and so on. In addition, your doctor may request imaging tests such as CT or MRI scan to exclude brain tumours.
4. What are the available treatment options?
It is noteworthy that there is no known cure for Meniere’s disease yet. However, several treatment options exist to alleviate the condition and improve quality of life. For instance, antiemetic medications such as promethazine are useful to control the feeling of nausea and vomiting while diazepam (valium) or meclizine may ameliorate the spinning sensation. Also, diuretics coupled with low-salt diets may help to reduce the amount of fluid retained in the inner ear. Hearing aids and vestibular rehabilitation may be prescribed to enhance hearing and balance respectively. Lastly, as a last resort where the above measures fail, some radical surgeries may be performed by an ENT specialist.
5. What can be done to prevent or reduce attacks?
Dietary adjustments in terms of avoiding excess salt intake, alcohol, caffeine and chocolate are quite helpful as these substances may promote fluid retention in the ear. Also, ensure that you stay well hydrated to keep your kidneys functioning well so they can excrete excess fluids in your urine.
In conclusion, it is essential to quit smoking and avoid any known allergens. These simple measures will no doubt help you to cope well with Meniere’s disease.