Meniere’s disease is an inner ear disorder that can impact hearing and balance. A chronic condition, Meniere’s disease is a rarer health issue that impacts less than one million people in the U.S. Though it can occur at any age, the majority of people who are impacted by this condition are above the age of 40. There are no cures for Meniere’s disease but there are strategies that help effectively manage symptoms and minimize their impact.
Meniere’s Disease: Causes & Symptoms
Part of what makes it difficult to diagnose Meniere’s disease is that the exact causes are unknown. The symptoms associated with it are not unique to the condition meaning that the most common symptoms are also characterized by a range of other diseases. Also, Meniere’s disease manifests differently among people making it more challenging to identify. Experts know that Meniere’s disease is related to an increase of pressure in the inner ear. The inner ear houses the cochlea which is filled with fluid. Medical professionals suggest that this fluid accumulates producing inflammation and this impacts organs that are critical for hearing and balance. What causes this to happen in what remains unclear.
Several symptoms are linked to Meniere’s disease including the following common signs:
- A sense of fullness or pressure in the ears, producing discomfort.
- Tinnitus refers to a ringing or buzzing-like noise that is heard in one or both ears when no external sound is present.
- Sudden bouts of dizziness, vertigo, imbalance. Dizziness can be brief or long-lasting.
- Difficulty hearing, hearing loss.
Symptoms vary from person to person but a commonality is that symptoms are recurring. People can experience vertigo or tinnitus once in a while, while others can experience long periods of these symptoms.
Hearing Loss and Meniere’s Disease
Meniere’s disease can cause hearing loss which can range from mild to severe. The fluid that builds up in the inner ear can affect the hair cells in the cochlea. There are thousands of hair cells in each ear and these cells help translate incoming soundwaves into electrical signals. These signals are carried to the brain via the auditory nerve and are further analyzed and made meaning of which allows us to understand what we hear. An accumulation of fluid in the inner ear affects the hair cells and the critical function they perform, affecting the sensory information the brain receives.
Hearing loss caused by Meniere’s disease can impact one or both ears and can also start gradually. The impaired hearing also produces several symptoms that can lead to strained communication. This can disrupt daily life by affecting relationships, creating challenges with work, making it difficult to complete everyday tasks, and leading to social withdrawal. Hearing loss can also increase the risk of developing other health conditions like cognitive decline, depression, and accidental injuries.
Treating & Managing Meniere’s Disease
Diagnosing Meniere’s disease often takes time. Ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctors, also referred to as otolaryngologists, treat disorders related to the inner ear. Treatment involves ruling out other possibilities and because of the shared symptoms with other diseases, there can be a delay in official diagnosis. Because there is no cure for Meniere’s disease and people are impacted differently, treatment is informed by the specific symptoms an individual is experiencing. Treatment involves strategies that alleviate symptoms and help manage Meniere’s disease so that its impact is as minimal as possible. This includes:
- Medications: this targets and alleviates symptoms like dizziness and nausea
- Inner ear injections of steroids reduce inflammation in the inner ear
- Dietary changes: this can decrease the fluid in the inner ear. This includes reducing salt and caffeine consumption which can trigger symptoms.
- Balance therapy: this type of rehabilitative therapy is designed to help people navigate issues with balance.
- Hearing aids: these medical devices are the most common treatment for hearing loss. They are designed to absorb, amplify, and process sound which maximizes hearing capacity. Treating hearing loss starts by having your hearing tested by a hearing healthcare specialist (like an audiologist). Hearing tests involve a noninvasive process that measures hearing capacity and diagnoses any degree of impairment.
If you are experiencing symptoms, contact us to assess your hearing health.