Ménière’s Disease is a disorder of the inner ear that causes episodes in which you feel as if you're spinning (vertigo), and you have fluctuating hearing loss with a progressive, ultimately permanent loss of hearing, ringing in the ear (tinnitus), and sometimes a feeling of fullness or pressure in your ear. In most cases, Ménière’s Disease affects only one ear.
Ménière’s Disease can develop at any age, but it is more likely to happen to adults between 40 and 60 years of age. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) estimates that approximately 615,000 individuals in the United States are currently diagnosed with Ménière’s Disease and that 45,500 cases are newly diagnosed each year. It's considered a chronic condition, but various treatments can help relieve symptoms and minimize the long-term impact on your life.
People with Ménière’s will have sudden dizzy spells after experiencing tinnitus or muffled hearing. Symptoms vary from person to person, and some will experience many attacks over a period of several days, and others will have an isolated attack every once in awhile.
Source: Mayo Clinic
Potential causes or triggers
Although there is no exact cause of Ménière’s, scientists believe that it has something to do with high pressure of the fluid in part of the inner ear. Passages and cavities connect throughout the inner ear, also called a labyrinth. The outside of the inner ear is a bone structure, while the interior is a soft membrane. This part of the ear contains tiny sensors that resemble hairs and respond to the movement of fluid, or endolymph, through the area. Potential causes or triggers of Ménière’s Disease include:
- Head injury
- Infection to the inner or middle ear
- Alcohol use
- Side effects of certain medications
- Stress or anxiety
- Family history of the disease
- Respiratory infection
- Recent viral illness
- Abnormal immune response
Stages of Ménière’s Disease and diagnosis
Ménière’s Disease commonly affects people in various stages, with symptoms developing over time.
- Early state: During this time, a person will experience sudden and often out-of-the-blue episodes of vertigo that last anywhere from 20 minutes to an entire day. An individual's ear may feel blocked or full, and they may have some hearing loss, which typically goes away after the episode fades. It is also common to feel the effects of tinnitus.
- Middle stage: Symptoms of vertigo tend to become less severe during this stage, while hearing loss and tinnitus will increase in severity. Many people will also experience long-term remission that can last several months.
- Late stage: During the late stages of Ménière’s Disease, patients will not suffer from vertigo as often, and some people will be relieved from it forever. However, tinnitus and hearing loss will likely get progressively worse, and people will likely experience unsteady balance regularly. Most people feel unstable in dark conditions when bearings are off.
Along with the common symptoms of Ménière’s Disease, it's possible to suffer from depression or anxiety. Since the ailment affects hearing, you may lose the confidence to have conversations with others or at work, which can contribute to depression or anxiety. In addition, symptoms tend to pop up out of nowhere, so those living with Ménière’s can live in a constant anxious state unsure of when an episode will occur.
In order to diagnose the disease, you must experience tinnitus, hearing loss and vertigo more than once. Since all of these issues can stand alone or be associated with other diseases, Ménière’s can sometimes be difficult to diagnose.
Ménière’s Disease Ages Affected
Ménière’s Disease varies dramatically from person to person, so individuals can experience an array of different symptoms that occur daily or just once a year.
Classic symptoms: pressure in the ear, hearing loss, vertigo, tinnitus
Symptoms usually begin with the feeling of pressure in the ear, followed by tinnitus, hearing loss and vertigo. These episodes will last anywhere from 20 minutes to four hours. People with Ménière’s will generally experience episodes in clusters with long periods of remission. When you experience an episode of Ménière’s Disease, it is best to lie down and focus on one sole, non-moving object. Often times, a sufferer will feel better after taking a nap.
Since Ménière’s Disease is not curable, many treatment options involve patients changing their habits or diet, or taking medications. Dietary changes can decrease the amount of fluid in the inner ear, which can weaken the symptoms of the disease. These changes include:
- Salt intake: Salt helps the body to retain water, so reduce intake of sodium-rich beverages and foods.
- Decrease caffeine: Caffeinated beverages can make symptoms like tinnitus worse, so it is best to decrease the amount of this stimulant in your diet.
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG): Although many food manufacturers have begun to avoid using MSG because of its harmful properties, it is still important to check labels to make sure it is not added.
- Smaller meals: More experts are proving there are greater benefits to the body if you consume five to six smaller meals throughout the day instead of three larger meals. This dietary pattern can also improve symptoms of Ménière’s Disease by keeping the metabolism moving and bodily fluids regulated. Similarly, opting for a healthier lifestyle can decrease the amount and severity of Ménière’s Disease symptoms.
- Smoking: Many people who suffer from Ménière’s Disease and who regularly smoke report weakened symptoms after quitting.
- Stress management: Stress and anxiety are both linked to Ménière’s Disease, but both can be a cause and symptom of the disease. Learning how to manage and identify stressors can bring relief. It may be beneficial to try relaxation or meditation techniques.