Ménière’s disease is an inner ear disorder that, if left untreated, can cause extreme episodes of vertigo and hearing loss. Ménière’s is most often seen in adults between 20 and 50 years of age. Although the disease is chronic, treatments are available that can help alleviate symptoms and provide a better quality of life.
What Causes Ménière’s Disease?
Ménière’s disease is believed to be the result of an inner ear abnormality. Research suggests a strong link between Ménière’s disease and a migraine problem affecting the inner ear. Most cases of Ménière’s disease involve only one ear; however, about 15 percent of individuals affected with the condition experience symptoms in both ears.
Risk Factors for Ménière’s Disease
Although the exact cause of Ménière’s is not completely understood, there are certain factors that appear to increase a person’s likelihood of developing the condition.
- Individuals with family members with Ménière’s disease are more likely to develop the condition themselves.
- You are at greater risk of developing the condition if you personally have a history of migraines, headaches, or motion sickness.
- A family history of headaches, migraines, or motion sickness puts you at greater risk for developing Ménière’s.
Symptoms of Ménière’s Disease
Ménière’s disease is characterized by episodic attacks that may develop suddenly and last anywhere from a few hours to several days. A person with the condition typically experiences these intermittent episodes for a number of years. During a Ménière’s episode, the patient can experience a range of symptoms, including
- Pressure or a sensation of fullness in the inner ear
- A persistent ringing or roaring in the ear
- A feeling of dizziness or spinning that can be extreme
- A temporary loss of hearing
Each Ménière’s episode can result in damage to the inner ear. This damage can, over time, lead to permanent hearing loss and balance problems.
How is Ménière’s Disease Diagnosed?
A number of diagnostic tests are available to evaluate balance and hearing functions and rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms.
- A standardized hearing evaluation will typically reveal sensory hearing loss and a reduced level of speech discrimination in the ear that is affected.
- Balance function may be assessed using an electronystagmogram and balance platform testing. These tests involve putting warm and cool water or air into the ear to evaluate how the eyes and ears work in collaboration with the nervous system to control balance and eye movement.
- An electrocochleography may be performed to test the pressure in the inner ear since patients with Ménière’s disease often have increased pressure in the inner ear.
How is Ménière’s Disease Treated?
Many patients with Ménière’s disease are able to minimize their systems with a variety of treatments. The most common treatments include
- Changes in diet and lifestyle
- Medications to alleviate vertigo symptoms
- Intratympanic injections – This procedure involves injecting dexamethasone or gentamicin into the middle ear behind the tympanic membrane
The small number of patients who do not respond to these conservative treatments may require surgery to correct the condition.