Meniere’s disease

Your ears are delicate, and there are many things that might impact the way they function. While some of these might be easy to understand and have simple remedies (such as a buildup of excess earwax), there are also more complex issues you can encounter.

Meniere’s disease is one such ailment that may impact your hearing, balance, and overall quality of life. Here, we will explore what Meniere’s disease is, common causes of the disease, and how it could affect your hearing, among other things. Read on to learn more.

What is Meniere’s disease?

Perhaps the most important area to cover is what Meniere’s disease actually is. It was named after the doctor who first discovered this affliction, and you might have Meniere’s disease if you are suffering from symptoms such as dizziness, pressure in one of your ears, or even something as serious as hearing loss. There are many ways in which Meniere’s disease can impact you, as it affects your inner ear – which is connected to how you hear, and your overall sense of balance.

Unfortunately, at this time there is no definitive cure for Meniere’s disease, however you can pursue treatments that may ease symptoms and make your quality of life better.

Who can get Meniere’s disease?

This is not a disease which only impacts a certain age group or section of society. Meniere’s disease can happen to anyone, so if you are concerned about it, it is important to flag this with your doctor as soon as possible. However, it is worth noting that Meniere’s disease is generally more commonly found in people over the age of forty.

What causes Meniere’s disease?

While the precise trigger of Meniere’s disease is unknown, it is believed to be caused by an increase of pressure, such as swelling, in your inner ear. This pressure is created by endolymph, a bodily fluid. There are many things which can cause this fluid to build up and trigger the swelling and pressure, some of which you might expect. Surprising triggers include causes such as suffering from a head injury or multiple concussions, or even excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, or having negative side effects from some medication.

You may also suffer from Meniere’s disease due to common allergies or having an ear infection – this can be in your middle or inner ear – and can also happen as a result as a respiratory or viral infection. Your own immune response can factor into this, as well.

Other causes you might not expect include suffering from stress and anxiety, frequent migraines, or even fatigue. If you have Meniere’s disease, your doctor will investigate your family history to try and discover if this is a common illness in your family, as this can also contribute to your likelihood of developing it yourself.

Symptoms of Meniere’s disease

There are multiple symptoms that you might encounter when suffering from Meniere’s disease. It is normal to initially feel as though there is pressure building in one ear, as well as experiencing dizziness and feeling generally unbalanced.

Tinnitus – a high ringing sound in your ears – is also common when it comes to this disease, as is the potential for your hearing to be muffled. You can also suffer from hearing loss.

Usually, this disease only impacts one ear, and can vary depending on the person. You may have flare-ups of Meniere’s disease that can last between twenty minutes to several hours, and in some cases even spanning multiple flares over a series of days. This is not always the case, and some find that they only have a flare-up once every so often. In classic cases of Meniere’s disease, you will experience multiple flare-ups over a series of days, followed by long periods when no symptoms occur.

As you may have noticed, these symptoms are similar to other ear-related ailments you might have. To meet the diagnostic criteria for Meniere’s disease, you should have hearing loss, vertigo symptoms, and also tinnitus multiple times. Even with these, Meniere’s can be hard to pinpoint, due to such similarities with other ear issues and diseases.

Dealing with Meniere’s at home

If you are in the diagnostic process or you are unsure that you may have Meniere’s, it can be difficult to handle the disease alone. We will explore treatment options later, however there are some simple steps you can take at home if you think you may be experiencing an episode.

The best advice is to stop what you are doing and lie down, focusing your attention on a single immobile object. You can do this for as long as you need, and often this will reduce the severity of how your symptoms feel. Sometimes, Meniere’s disease sufferers say that sleeping for a short time also helps them to feel better – this links with Meniere’s being commonly triggered by stress and fatigue.

The progression of Meniere’s

There are three main stages of Menire’s disease, beginning with the early stage, wherein the episodes will be experienced as a sudden-onset of dizziness, as well as a feeling of fullness in the ear, and potentially some tinnitus. Any hearing loss encountered in the early stage will usually fade with the flare-up, which can last up to a day.

At the middle stage of Meniere’s disease, the dizziness and vertigo may reduce, but your hearing loss symptoms and tinnitus symptoms will become worse. You may find that your episodes become less common, perhaps with weeks or months between flares.

In the late stage of Meniere’s disease, your vertigo symptoms will lessen further or even disappear altogether, though feeling off balance is still common and frequent. While the vertigo lessening is a relief to many, hearing loss and tinnitus worsens, and darker lighting can make maintaining stable balance even more challenging.

Potential for hearing loss

Hearing loss is a common symptom of Meniere’s disease, specifically making sounds which are lower pitched much harder to detect. This means that a man’s voice might be muffled or impossible to hear, while a woman’s voice (which is higher) would be heard.

On the other hand, you may become more sensitive to these higher frequency sounds, and they might cause discomfort – and in some cases you may find it harder or impossible to hear these higher pitched sounds at all. Meniere’s disease does not behave the same way in every sufferer, and it can ebb and flow based on whether or not you are currently experiencing an episode of Meniere’s disease.

Over time and repeated incidents of the disease, you may find that your hearing loss becomes more severe or more constant. It might impact both your ears, and could become profound. In these cases, hearing aids can be very helpful, with the potential for cochlear implants in more serious cases.

Difficulties with Meniere’s

Because of the commonality of the symptoms of Meniere’s with other diseases, it can be very difficult to diagnose. You may need to be tested for many different illnesses and try multiple treatments before reaching a conclusion and concrete diagnosis.

Partly due to this and partly due to the nature of the symptoms, Meniere’s disease can lead to sufferers feeling isolated and anxious, making conversations with friends and colleagues challenging. Many lose confidence in previously unchallenging situations, which is only compounded by the sudden way in which Meniere’s can flare up. It can be difficult to make plans or feel positive when living with this kind of uncertainty.

However, with accommodations and the correct diagnosis, it is possible to live a full and happy life with Meniere’s disease.

Relieving the symptoms of Meniere’s disease

While remedies for Meniere’s disease are not scientifically proven, many feel some sense of relief from these. It is suggested, for example, that reducing the amount of salt you eat might help to alleviate some of the fluid build-up and, even if this does not work, it is an overall net good for your health.

Caffeine can also increase the severity of tinnitus, so reducing the amount you consume is a good idea – this can help with feelings of anxiety, too, by restricting stimulants in your diet. It is also suggested that you should not smoke with Meniere’s disease, and of course this is perhaps one of the most powerful choices you can make for your health.

Reducing the amount of stress and learning how to better manage your stress levels can have a positive impact on Meniere’s, and on your life overall. Accessing structured therapy or even just learning mindfulness and relaxation techniques can help.

Medical options to pursue

While research on medical treatments for this disease are still largely unexplored, there are some clinical trials suggesting that inner ear injections of an antibiotic can relieve the dizziness associated with Meniere’s disease. This may also raise the likelihood of hearing loss, however. Currently, the potential use of steroid injections is also being explored – though these studies, and others, are also in their infancy.

Getting help with Meniere’s disease

If you are concerned that you might be suffering from Meniere’s disease, the first step is to talk to your GP, who will be able to discount common ailments. For expert investigation, diagnosis and advice, it is necessary to speak to an ear, nose and throat specialist. They will have experience in inner ear issues and help you to reach a conclusion, as well as suggesting ways in which you can improve your quality of life with Meniere’s disease.