Serving Patients in Southwest Florida
What Is Ménière’s Disease and How Is It Treated?
You can feel it coming before it happens: the roaring in your ears, the wave of nausea, and the feeling like you might hit the floor at any moment. The dizziness comes on suddenly and can last for hours—and it happens so often that you’re afraid to drive or even leave the house alone. How can you get better if you don’t know what’s causing your condition? Is there a way to treat these spells that can stop them before they happen?
Description of Ménière’s Disease
Ménière’s disease is an inner ear disorder that causes severe dizziness known as vertigo, hearing problems, and other disturbing conditions. It can happen at any age, but is most commonly seen in middle-aged adults between 35 and 60 years old. Usually only one ear is affected by the condition, although some patients experience symptoms in both ears.
Patients who are suffering from the condition will often suffer:
- Episodic rotational vertigo. Vertigo is a sudden and often disabling form of dizziness. A patient with Ménière’s disease will often suffer an attack of becoming off-balance, feeling a “spinning “sensation that lasts from a few minutes to several hours. Some patients experience extreme nausea or vomiting due to the sensation, while others may suffer frequent falls due to the attacks.
- Ear blockage. A “full” feeling in the affected ear may be felt constantly, or immediately before an episode of vertigo.
- Tinnitus. Fluid changes in the ear can cause a ringing or buzzing sound that only the patient can hear. These noises may be constant, or may happen (or worsen) just before an attack of vertigo.
- Hearing loss. Hearing problems may come and go in the early stages of the disease, but usually become constant as the condition progresses. Patients typically have trouble hearing sounds at lower frequencies, and experience discomfort in the ear after loud or sudden noises.
Although Ménière’s disease results from fluid imbalances in the inner ear, there is no definitive cause of the condition. Some professionals believe that metabolism changes in the body increase the pressure in the ear, causing the severe dizziness that is the hallmark of the disease. Others believe that allergies, autoimmune disorders, or narrowing or irregular constriction of blood vessels leads to the inner ear problem. Finally, because Ménière’s disease may run in families, some researchers think it may be caused by genetic abnormalities.
Medical professionals rely on a number of tests to definitively diagnose Ménière’s disease. A hearing test is usually performed to examine the ears and rule out other causes of hearing loss and dizziness. Patients may also undergo magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans of their heads to rule out any brain tumors or lesions. Finally, a neurologist may be consulted to explore other potential causes of vertigo.
In general, patients will likely be diagnosed with Ménière’s disease if they have all of the following:
- Persistent or occasional tinnitus
- Temporary or constant hearing loss
- A plugged feeling in the ear
- Experienced two or more extended episodes of vertigo
Treatments for Ménière’s Disease
There is currently no cure for Ménière’s disease, but there are many treatments that can help patients cope with the condition. Most treatments aim to control the symptoms of Ménière’s disease, reducing the hearing loss and preventing the onset of vertigo. Depending on the extent of the patient’s condition, a doctor may recommend one or more of the following:
- Medication. Many drugs may be prescribed to alleviate dizziness and nausea in patients with Ménière’s disease. Diuretics, or water pills, are commonly used to drain fluid in the inner ear, decreasing the pressure buildup that causes vertigo. Prescription medications such diazepam and lorazepam can help shorten attacks of vertigo, while anti-emetic drugs are used to prevent nausea.
- Dietary changes. Some dietary restrictions are helpful in controlling vertigo, such as limiting sodium intake and avoiding caffeine, chocolate, and alcoholic drinks. Nicotine is a well-known vasodilator (constricts blood vessels), so patients are highly encouraged to stop smoking.
- Cognitive therapy. Patients often have trouble coping with the emotional stress of vertigo, as well as the extreme fatigue that occurs after attacks. Cognitive therapy sessions can help patients change the way they think and react to their conditions, helping them to cope better when a sudden attack arises.
- Injections. Your doctors may recommend an injection of corticosteroids or antibiotics directly into the middle ear to control dizziness.
- Surgery. If all non-invasive treatments have failed to control dizziness, patients may undergo surgery to relieve their vertigo. Common procedures include decompression of the endolymphatic sac, severing of the vestibular (balance) nerve, or even total removal of the inner ear structures. These are often last resorts, as the procedure will usually deprive the patient of the ability to hear in the affected ear.
If you have been suffering dizzy spells and hearing loss, you should see a hearing care specialist as soon as possible to rule out Ménière’s disease. Call us at 866-517-4415 or fill out our quick online contact sheet to schedule your hearing test today.