You might have heard that balance was maintained in the ears, but what exactly does that mean? How do we use our ears to balance the precarious human structure of the upright homo sapiens? Some of the clues to how the ears help maintain balance can be seen in balance disorders. Vertigo, which can cause fainting, dizziness, or falls, can come from a number of causes. One of these is a relatively rare condition called Meniere’s disease. This condition affects the balance function of the inner ear with an excess of fluid, causing some of the symptoms of vertigo. Let’s take a look at some of the basics of Meniere’s disease, as well as the triggering habits that you can avoid.
What is Meniere’s disease?
Although it only affects about 1 in 1,500 people, Meniere’s disease is a serious condition of equilibrium. Those in their 40s and 50s are most susceptible, and it is considered to be a chronic condition, meaning that it does not completely go away once a person is diagnosed. Although there is no known cure for Meniere’s disease, several treatment regimens have been successful at reducing the effects.
What causes Meniere’s disease?
Doctors don’t know exactly what causes Meniere’s disease, but they have identified several triggering occurrences that can lead to the condition. In general, Meniere’s is defined by an excess of fluid in the inner ear. Those who have had head injuries, allergies, sleep apnea, and respiratory infections are more likely to get Meniere’s disease, as are those who have a family history of the condition. Some unhealthy habits like excessive drinking and smoking are linked to higher rates of Meniere’s disease or a trigger for the related balance issues. Stress, fatigue, anxiety, and migraines can all be considered triggers for an episode, as well.
What are the symptoms of Meniere’s disease?
How do you know if you might be experiencing Meniere’s disease? The main symptoms include muffled hearing or hearing loss, a feeling of pressure in the ear, dizzy spells, and tinnitus, that ringing, whistling, buzzing or other persistent noise that comes from within the body. Meniere’s disease episodes can last anywhere from 20 minutes to four hours. These symptoms can be linked to other health issues, so Meniere’s disease is sometimes misdiagnosed. It is important to work with a doctor to get a full diagnosis of your condition rather than making an assumption based on your own research. These symptoms can be related to other health problems, so it is important to assess your health in a holistic manner when you work with your primary care physician.
What are the treatments for Meniere’s disease?
In the event of a Meniere’s disease episode, there are a few steps you can take. The episode tends to begin with the feeling of pressure in the ear, leading to tinnitus, muffled hearing, and finally vertigo. Before you reach the point of vertigo, it is important to find a safe place to experience the episode. The greatest risk to those with Meniere’s disease comes from driving or other activities that become life-threatening when vertigo strikes. Lying down, focusing on a non-moving object, and trying to sleep is the most common response to an episode. Some medications, such as anti-anxiety and anti-nausea can help with the symptoms, as well. Dietary approaches to Meniere’s treatment include avoiding changes in sodium levels, reducing caffeine intake, and liming alcohol consumption. Certain foods can be triggering for individuals, as well, such as gluten in some Meniere’s patients. Smoking cessation and stress management are good long-term responses to Meniere’s disease, reducing the likelihood of an episode. For those with advanced cases of Meniere’s, medical interventions include steroids injected into the inner ear to reduce inflammation and gentamycin injections to reduce the feeling of dizziness.
If you are concerned with any of the symptoms related to Meniere’s disease, it is important to seek a consultation and exam with your physician. If you are concerned about hearing loss, you can call our offices to schedule a hearing test. Though we will refer you to your physician to assess the possibility of Meniere’s disease, we can help diagnose your hearing ability and provide treatment options to help improve your hearing.