Finding Your Footing With Meniere’s Disease

Meniere’s disease is an inner ear disorder that affects a person’s hearing and balance. The chronic condition can affect one or both ears and cause vertigo and hearing loss. Experts believe the disease is caused by excessive fluid in the tubes of the inner ear, but autoimmune conditions, genetics, and allergies are also suspected causes.

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Listening for signs

Meniere’s disease typically affects people in episodes or attacks. Common symptoms include dizzy spells that can last a few minutes or an entire day, as well as hearing loss in one ear. Patients should also look out for the following symptoms:

  •  Tinnitus, or ringing in the ear
  •  Headaches
  •  Nausea and vomiting
  •  Aural fullness, or plugging of the ear
  •  Deafness

Diagnosing hearing loss

Treatment for vertigo, hearing loss, or any other Meniere’s disease symptoms depends on the diagnosis and severity of the condition. A hearing test using headphones checks to see if patients can hear different tones and words. An electrocochleography (ECOG) test is performed to measure electrical activity in the inner ear. An auditory brainstem response (ABR) test measures the nerve and the brain’s hearing center function.

Testing for balance disorders

Balance tests such as the electronystagmography (ENG) uses electrodes to detect eye movement. A doctor will push hot and cold water through the ear and check for involuntary eye movements caused by irregularities in the inner ear. Rotary chair testing and vestibular evoked myogenic potential (VEMP) are also diagnostic tests, albeit less common than ENG.

Surgery for Meniere’s disease

Patients who have Meniere’s disease can still experience vertigo symptoms, even with conventional treatments. When all medical treatments are exhausted, surgery may be an option to treat debilitating vertigo. Surgical procedures intend to either reduce pressure, destroy the balance function, but keep the hearing function, or destroy both hearing and balance functions.

Reversing pressure caused by fluid

An endolymphatic sac surgery operates on the endolymphatic sac responsible for regulating inner ear fluid levels. A small portion of bone is removed to reduce compression. The procedure may also include the placement of a shunt, a tube used to drain excess fluid.

Hearing or balance loss

A labyrinthectomy removes the hearing and balance function of the ear. The procedure is usually reserved for severe cases of near or complete hearing loss. The vestibular nerve section surgery cuts the nerve responsible for connecting balance and movement sensors in the inner ear. The operation preserves the hearing nerve to retain a level of hearing.

The possibility of spontaneous remission

Doctors can recommend a personalized treatment measure to help patients manage vertigo and hearing loss. Along with surgery, patients can manage symptoms with simple lifestyle changes such as reducing salt, caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco intake to keep inner ear fluid levels in check. Patients can manage vertigo and hearing loss by learning the triggers, resting after attacks, and finding the right treatment. For more information, speak with an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist.

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