Meniere’s disease is a condition that affects the inner ear. It is responsible for dizziness, vertigo and nausea. It also causes ringing in the ears which people find intolerable. Although the causes are still quite a mystery, Meniere’s disease is however well known by specialists.
This auditory problem affects men and women (65%) alike. It generally appears between the ages of 20 and 50 (children and adolescents are very rarely diagnosed with this condition). In the majority of cases, only one ear is affected, although 10 to 15% of patients are affected in both ears.
What is Meniere’s disease?
Meniere’s disease is characterised by periods of vertigo and ringing in the ears. Flare-ups are often intermittent but recur throughout the person’s life, which can in some cases lead to a loss of hearing. It is however possible to limit the whistling sensation with certain treatments.
Between 20 and 200 people per 100,000 are affected by this disease in Europe. It can be confused with other conditions which affect the ears or which cause vertigo, such as otosclerosis (a hereditary illness that involves tinnitus and progressive hearing loss), chronic ear infections or even vestibular schwannomas (benign tumours in the vestibular and auditory nerves).
What causes it?
The exact causes of Meniere’s disease remain unknown. Certain genes may play a part, but these have not yet been identified. The disease can also be due to trauma to the inner ear, to an allergic reaction or an immune system imbalance.
What are the symptoms?
People affected by Meniere’s disease experience vertigo, nausea, vomiting, a feeling of fullness or pressure in the ears, ringing in the ears and a certain loss of hearing.
Patients generally have one or more flare-ups a year, which can be isolated or consecutive incidents. Such flare-ups last between 20 minutes and 24 hours, and gradually ease off. During periods of vertigo, patients feel like the world is spinning or wobbling, and they can lose their balance and even fall.
People with Meniere’s disease also experience tinnitus – a ringing, whistling or buzzing in the affected ear, which can persist, vary or disappear. The tinnitus can get worse during, just before, or just after a bout of vertigo.
Sufferers of Meniere’s disease can also get headaches, become pale, start sweating, notice their pulse slowing down, feel nauseous and vomit.
What treatments exist to reduce the symptoms?
The symptoms of Meniere’s disease can be debilitating for patients in their daily lives, and can lead to social isolation. There is no cure for Meniere’s disease, but it is possible to limit the symptoms and the frequency of the flare-ups. Treatments aim to treat the bouts of vertigo and limit their frequency. Patients are given medications for vomiting, vertigo and anxiety. Professionals also recommend alternative medicines such as acupuncture, phytotherapy and various food supplements.
If these treatments are not effective, surgery may be an option.
How can you prevent flare-ups of Meniere’s disease?
Several factors contribute to flare-ups. It is therefore important to limit the following risk factors in as much as possible:
- emotional trauma
During a flare-up, sit down and open your eyes until your brain regains the upper hand.
Finally, in order to better manage this condition, it is strongly recommended that you have regular follow up with an ENT specialist, and possibly a psychologist. The patient should seek company and support from their loved ones in order to prevent social isolation.