Meniere's Disease – Definition, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatments, and More

Meniere’s Disease – Definition, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatments, and More

Meniere’s disease is a medical condition that affects the inner ear. The latter is responsible for the processes of hearing and balance.

Patients with Meniere’s disease experience tinnitus (i.e., ringing in the ear), vertigo, and trouble hearing. Most commonly, this disease is unilateral (i.e., affects one ear).

According to a report from the National Health Service (NHS), around 1 in 1,000 people in the United Kingdom have Meniere’s disease, with the vast majority of patients being between 20 and 60 years old.

While Meniere’s disease is chronic, there are treatments to control its symptoms. Additionally, patients go through periods of remission when they do not experience any symptoms.

In this article, we will cover the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options of Meniere’s disease to help you get a better understanding of this condition.

What causes Meniere’s disease?

Meniere’s disease can stem from a structural abnormality in the inner ears that leads to fluid overload. However, we still do not understand the exact reasons that drive these changes.

The inner ear contains several connected ducts and cavities, which are collectively known as the labyrinth.

Inside the labyrinth, a fluid known as the endolymph circulates to stimulate hair-like sensors. Once these cells get stimulated, your brain receives a signal that your position in space just changed.

The other part of the inner ear is responsible for hearing.

Different parts of the inner ear are responsible for:

  • The detection of acceleration in any direction
  • The perception of sound
  • Rotational motion

For these sensors and systems to function properly, the volume, pressure, and composition of the endolymph need to be correct.

Unfortunately, your body secretes endolymph in excess amounts when you have Meniere’s disease. In other cases, the drainage system of this fluid may be defective.

Researchers managed to identify numerous triggers of Meniere’s disease attacks, including:

Working for too long – many patients experience attacks after spending long hours at work.

Underlying health conditions – infections, allergies, smoking, and head injuries.

Salt – consuming excess amounts of salt in your diet predisposes you to attacks.

The signs and symptoms of Meniere’s disease

The symptoms of Meniere’s disease tend to be episodic. In other words, you could experience symptoms for one week then be symptom-free for the next month.

Here are the signs and symptoms of Meniere’s disease:

  • Vertigo – the episodes usually last for a few minutes. However, some patients experience vertigo for up to 24 hours

  • Tinnitus – ringing in the ear (the affected one)

  • Aural fullness – feeling that the ear is full

  • Loss of hearing in the affected ear

  • Loss of balance

  • Headaches

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Sweating caused by severe vertigo

Generally speaking, someone with Meniere’s disease experiences at least 2–3 of the following symptoms:

  • Vertigo

  • Tinnitus

  • Hearing loss

  • Aural fullness

Furthermore, patients do not experience symptoms between attacks; therefore, if you develop inner ear symptoms outside of a Meniere’s disease episode, it may be the result of another underlying condition.

The most common differential diagnosis of Meniere’s disease is labyrinthitis, which describes an inflammation of the labyrinth – the apparatus responsible for hearing.

The diagnosis of Meniere’s disease

Unfortunately, there is no one test to confirm the diagnosis of Meniere’s disease. Instead, your doctor will base his/her diagnosis on a collection of evidence from your medical history and physical examination.

The following questions may help in the diagnosis and management of Meniere’s disease:

  • How severe are your symptoms?

  • How often do you get symptoms?

  • Did you take any drugs before the symptoms started?

  • Do you have any history of ear disorders?

  • What is your general health status?

  • Do you have a history of infectious diseases or allergies?

  • Do you have a family member with a disorder in their inner ear?

Note that numerous conditions present with similar symptoms to Meniere’s disease, which makes the diagnosis challenging. Being honest and forthcoming with your doctor is indispensable in this situation.

The treatment of Meniere’s disease

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As we mentioned above, Meniere’s disease is a chronic condition, which means there is no definitive cure.

With that said, there are several forms of therapy that help with the symptoms, including:

Pharmacological drugs

To control your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe some pharmacological drugs to help with motion sickness, nausea, and vomiting. When the last two symptoms are predominant, your doctor may suggest an antiemetic.

Diuretics may also be helpful in managing Meniere’s disease. As we mentioned above, the primary defect in this condition is fluid overload in the inner ear. Therefore, taking a drug that promotes fluid excretion can aid with your symptoms.

In some cases, your doctor may choose to inject the drug directly into your inner ear, which could significantly improve your vertigo.

Physical therapy

To control your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe some pharmacological drugs to help with motion sickness, nausea, and vomiting. When the last two symptoms are predominant, your doctor may suggest an antiemetic.

Diuretics may also be helpful in managing Meniere’s disease. As we mentioned above, the primary defect in this condition is fluid overload in the inner ear. Therefore, taking a drug that promotes fluid excretion can aid with your symptoms.

In some cases, your doctor may choose to inject the drug directly into your inner ear, which could significantly improve your vertigo.