Definition — What is Meniere’s Disease?
Ménière’s disease, also called Idiopathic Endolymphatic Hydrops, is a disorder of the inner ear. Although the cause is unknown, it probably results from an abnormality in the fluids of the inner ear. Ménière’s disease is one of the most common causes of dizziness originating in the inner ear. In most cases only one ear is involved, but both ears may be affected in about 15 percent of patients. Ménière’s disease typically starts between the ages of 20 and 50 years. Men and women are affected in equal numbers.
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Symptoms — What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of Ménière’s disease are episodic rotational vertigo (attacks of a spinning sensation), hearing loss, tinnitus (a roaring, buzzing, or ringing sound in the ear), and a sensation of fullness in the affected ear. Tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and fullness of the ear in Ménière’s disease may come and go with changes in hearing, occur during or just before attacks, or be constant. There may also be an intermittent hearing loss early in the disease, especially in the low pitches, but a fixed hearing loss involving tones of all pitches commonly develops in time. Loud sounds may be uncomfortable and seem distorted in the affected ear.
Of all of the Ménière’s disease’s symptoms, vertigo is usually the most troublesome. It is commonly produced by disorders of the inner ear, but may also occur in central nervous system disorders. Vertigo may last for 20 minutes to two hours or longer. During attacks, patients are usually unable to perform activities normal to their work or home life. Sleepiness may follow for several hours, and the off-balance sensation may last for days. The symptoms of Ménière’s disease may be only a minor nuisance, or can become disabling, especially if the attacks of vertigo are severe, frequent, and occur without warning.
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Diagnosis — How is Ménière’s Disease diagnosed?
The physician will take a history of the frequency, duration, severity, and character of your attacks, the duration of hearing loss or whether it has been changing, and whether you have had tinnitus or fullness in either or both ears. You may be asked whether there is history of syphilis, mumps, or other serious infections, inflammations of the eye, an autoimmune disorder or allergy, or ear surgery. You may be asked questions about your general health, such as whether you have diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, thyroid, neurological or emotional disorders. Tests may be ordered to look for these problems in certain cases. When the history has been completed, diagnostic tests will check your hearing and balance functions. They may include:
- A hearing test to determine hearing loss, a major symptom of Ménière’s.
- A balance test (ENG or rotational testing) to evaluate balance function.
- Electrocochleography (ECoG) to detect increased inner ear pressure.
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A low salt diet and a diuretic (water pill) may reduce the frequency of attacks of Ménière’s disease in some patients. In order to receive the full benefit of the diuretic, it is important that you restrict your intake of salt and take the medication regularly as directed. Anti-vertigo medications, e.g., Antivert® (meclizine generic), or Valium® (diazepam generic), may provide temporary relief. Anti-nausea medication is sometimes prescribed. Anti-vertigo and anti-nausea medications may cause drowsiness. Avoid caffeine, smoking, and alcohol. Get regular sleep and eat properly. Remain physically active, but avoid excessive fatigue. Stress may aggravate the vertigo and tinnitus of Ménière’s disease. Stress avoidance or counseling may be advised. If you have vertigo without warning, you should not drive, because failure to control the vehicle may be hazardous to yourself and others. Safety may require you to forego ladders, scaffolds, and swimming.
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If vertigo attacks are not controlled by conservative measures and are disabling, one of the following surgical procedures might be recommended:
- Intratympanic treatment, also known as chemical labyrinthectomy,
is an office procedure in which a medicine, such as gentamicin, is injected into the middle ear. Other medicines may be used. Gentamicin is an antibiotic that causes a partial loss of balance function in the treated ear, controlling vertigo in about three fourths of cases and usually preserving hearing. Apart from a period of disequilibrium that can occur as the patient adjusts to the new level of balance function, this treatment is usually very well tolerated.
It is also significantly simpler and less invasive than other surgical treatments.
- The endolymphatic shunt or decompression procedure is an ear operation that usually preserves hearing. Attacks of vertigo are controlled in one-half to two-thirds of cases, but control is not permanent in all cases. Recovery time after this procedure is short compared to the other procedures.
- Selective vestibular neurectomy is a procedure in which the balance nerve is cut as it leaves the inner ear and goes to the brain. Vertigo attacks are permanently cured in a high percentage of cases, and hearing is preserved in most cases.
- Labryrinthectomy and eighth nerve section are procedures in which the balance and hearing mechanism in the inner ear are destroyed on one side. This is considered when the patient with Ménière’s disease has poor hearing in the affected ear. Labryrinthectomy and eighth nerve section result in the highest rates for control of vertigo attacks.
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