A disorder of the inner ear, with no known cause and no cure. There are treatments for the symptoms but no cure.
Signs and symptoms of Meniere’s include severe vertigo, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), ears that feel full or congestion (liken to ear infection pain) and hearing loss. Typically this only affects one ear, sometimes (about 30% of the time), it can affect both. You can also get muffled hearing, which sounds like being under water. According to some sources, it can take between 5 and 15 years to run its course. It is not noted however, if this is from diagnosis or onset.
Meniere’s is more likely to develop if someone else in the family has it. Some sources say it starts between ages 40-60 and others say 20-50. That’s quite the large spread for age of onset. One of the most common signs, other than vertigo is the sensitivity to sounds, whether loud or certain pitches. For me, it’s whistling, it grates my nerves and causes migraines. It didn’t used to, but now, living in a house of males who like to whistle I am constantly being the terrible nag begging them to stop.
The symptoms are thought to be related to a buildup of fluid in the parts of the inner ear known as the “labyrinth”, this is where balance and hearing organs are located. An abnormal fluid buildup in this location interferes with the communication to the brain that signals sounds and balance.
Getting Meniere’s disease, much like Multiple Sclerosis in my opinion, appears to be a combination of things happening causing a perfect storm. Researchers think that perhaps a constriction of blood vessels could trigger the disease, much like the constriction that cause migraines. There are also theories about viral infections, allergies, migraines, head trauma and auto-immune responses. If you have Meniere’s I can tell you for certain the tests needed to confirm the diagnosis are terrible. The one that was the worst for me was when they blew different temperatures of air into each ear and asked me questions. I got so sick doing that test I almost threw up in the office.
The hearing loss that happens with Meniere’s usually happens at lower level sounds, whereas age related hearing loss usually impacts higher level sounds. Bouts of vertigo could cause more hearing loss but in general there is a steady, slow loss of hearing in the affected ear. Hearing loss is permanent and sometimes can lead to complete loss of hearing the afflicted ear.
Due to the vertigo that comes with this disease, people are more at risk for falls and something called “drop attacks” which is a sudden fall to the ground. There’s another thing I was unaware of prior to testing. At what point do you know what is caused by Meniere’s and what is caused by Multiple Sclerosis, which also puts patients at an increased risk of falling.
It is thought that up to one-third of patients with Meniere’s also suffer with migraines. Some of the more odd things that come from the Vertigo complication and not directly from Meniere’s is nausea, vomiting and sweating. Apparently frequent attacks of vertigo can wreak havoc on the digestive system and the hormone response from the same can cause excess sweating.
There are several types of treatments for the different symptoms. Diuretics or low salt diets are the go to, however, I have low blood pressure so that was not an option for me. I tried several different pills for the vertigo, none of them worked. They finally prescribed me a patch you put behind your ear for up to 3 days and that did work. I was able to take a plane and a ferry boat while wearing it without getting sick.
There’s an injection of dexamethasone or gentamicin which I have not been brave enough to even ask about and surgery. These injections go into your eardrum (shiver) and can reduce the vertigo but increase the loss of hearing and worsen your overall balance. Surgery is the last option which only treats the worse vertigo.
It is kind of crazy how one tiny part of your body can mess the whole thing up. I have been trying to come to terms with the fact that I have this disease in both ears. I wear a hearing aid in the left as it is the worse of the two for now. It has a setting on it that is supposed to reprogram my brain to stop trying to hear the waves that cause the tinnitus. Eventually, I will need a hearing aid for the other side too, I say there must be a reason I learned sign language as my second language because I will most likely have to rely on it at some point in my life now. Though it may help with the “Cog Fog” and word finding problems I have with my MS.
If you need a hearing aid though, the one I got it really small and most people don’t even notice unless I say something and/or adjust the volume in front of them. Though now, I kind of wish I had gotten one with a cool design, I see kids at my youngest son’s school rocking camo or bright red ones and I am a little jealous.