Meniere’s disease is a rare disorder affecting the structures in the inner ear, including those of the hearing system (the cochlea) and the vestibular system (the vestibule and semicircular canals). Abnormalities and changes in this system lead to problems with hearing and balance. Meniere’s ear disease usually begins in one ear, but can eventually become bilateral.
What Causes Meniere’s Disease?
The root cause of Meniere’s disease is unknown, but is likely related to both biological and environmental factors. Causes of Meniere’s disease symptoms are better understood, and are related to problems in the inner ear. The inner ear contains two classes of structures: auditory and vestibular. Although the system most affected is the vestibular system, Meniere’s disease also presents with hearing-related symptoms.
Symptoms in an acute attack of Meniere’s disease are related to a fluid imbalance in the labyrinth, one of the bony structures of the inner ear. The labyrinth is a component of the vestibular system, which is responsible for balance and a sense of the body’s movement and location in space. The labyrinth is connected to the cochlea, the structure responsible for hearing in the inner ear. Inner ear structures are filled with fluid to help with signal transmission of sound and balance information.
In Meniere’s disease, this fluid builds up in the labyrinth and is unable to drain, leading to a condition known as endolymphatic hydrops. Other theories about the cause of Meniere’s disease (such as autoimmune disease) exist, but none has been proven definitively. Hearing damage in Meniere’s ear disease is caused by progressive hair cell damage, which impairs the cochlea’s ability to translate sound information into nerve impulses to be sent to the brain.
Symptoms of Meniere’s Disease
Meniere’s disease symptoms include:
- Feeling of fullness in the ear
- Fluctuating hearing loss (which is also progressive over time)
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
Meniere’s disease symptoms come and go, usually recurring as sudden “attacks” of symptoms lasting several hours. Wide individual differences are observed in the duration and frequency of attacks. During an attack, individuals experience the above symptoms, which can leave them feeling nauseous and exhausted. Another danger posed by an attack is called “otolithic crisis of Tumarkin,” which refers to sudden vestibular dysfunction that can lead to falls. Between attacks, individuals may experience:
- Mild balance problems
- Mild tinnitus
- Progressive hearing loss.
Meniere’s Disease Treatment
Currently, this ear disease has no widely accepted treatment. Meniere’s disease symptoms may be alleviated, however, by making changes to your diet, which may help you to retain less fluid and help alleviate the symptoms. Reducing stress and refraining from smoking may also be helpful. For those experiencing “otolithic crisis of Tumarkin,” destruction or removal of parts of the vestibular structures or nerve may be recommended by your doctor.
Hain, T. (n.d.). Meniere’s disease. Retrieved February 10, 2010, from Dizziness-and-Balance Web site: http://www.dizziness-and-balance.com/disorders/menieres/menieres.html.
Meniere’s Disease Information Center (n.d.). Etiology (cause) of Meniere’s disease. Retrieved February 10, 2010, from Meniere’s Disease Information Center Web site: http://www.menieresinfo.com/cause.html.
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (n.d.). Meniere’s disease. Retrieved February 10, 2010, from National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Web site: http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/balance/meniere.asp.