Meniere’s Disease - A guide to Hearing Loss

This is a condition of the inner ear where there is an increase in fluid levels in the labyrinth - a collection of tiny, fluid filled tubes which transmit sound and balance signals to the brain. And this build up of fluid increases pressure within these tubes which impairs balance and hearing.

These tubes are contained within the cochlea and the semi-circular canals which regulate hearing and balance.

This disease starts in one ear and then spreads to both ears.

Meniere’s disease is actually an umbrella term used to describe a group of symptoms.

This disease differs from others in that it presents itself as a series of attacks rather than a single episode. These attacks can come on without any warning and can last from just a few minutes to several hours.

You may experience what are known as ‘cluster attacks’which are groups of attacks followed by a period in which you don’t have any symptoms. This pattern is repeated throughout the year.

These repeated attacks gradually damage the cells within the labyrinth and the cochlea which results in a deterioration in balance and hearing. This decline eventually leads to permanent damage.

Causes of meniere’s disease

This disease can be caused by the following:

  • Genetics
  • Viral infection of the ear
  • Allergy
  • Immune system disorder
  • Disease of the blood vessels within the inner ear
  • Salt imbalance in fluid within the labyrinth

This condition can develop at any age although it is more common in people aged between 20 and 50.

(Source: Meniere’s Society)

Symptoms of meniere’s disease

These differ between individuals and include vertigo, tinnitus, increased pressure within the ear and hearing loss. Vertigo is the worst of these symptoms which causes nausea, vomiting and anxiety due to dizziness and a feeling of spinning. This ‘spinning’ feeling is best described as the sensation of things appearing to move around you even though you are stood still.

This results in nausea and vomiting due to the spinning sensation.

Ringing or a buzzing sound in the ears is common and your ear will feel ‘muffled’or as if it is blocked which results in hearing loss.

There are three stages of this disease although not everyone experiences these. These stages include:

  • Stage 1 (early): Vertigo and tinnitus develops. Hearing starts to decline.
  • Stage 2 (middle): Vertigo and tinnitus continue and sensorineural hearing loss develops.
  • Stage 3 (late): Tinnitus continues but vertigo eases. Hearing loss continues to decline.

As a result of this sufferers feel anxious or depressed and are understandably, nervous before the onset of an attack. If you experience any of these symptoms then visit your GP. He/she will refer you for tests which include an MRI scan to determine the severity of your illness.

Treatment for meniere’s disease

There is still much that isn’t known about this disease and further research is needed in order to learn more about this condition. Treatment options include:

  • Diuretic and/or following a low salt diet to help correct the salt imbalance in the labyrinth fluid.
  • Medications such as prochlorperazine to help combat the symptoms of vertigo.
  • Therapy or counselling to help reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Healthy lifestyle which includes stopping smoking, giving up alcohol, taking exercise and avoiding certain foods.
  • Balance training: this can be done with a physiotherapist who will suggest a series of exercises to help improve your balance.
  • Hearing aid.
  • Specific treatment for tinnitus.

Surgery is another option but is only performed on people with severe symptoms.

One type of surgery involves injecting antibiotics directly into the inner ear. The other involves surgery on the nerves in the ear to help relieve pressure within the labyrinth.

Hearing Loss

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