While not heavily studied or well-known, Meniere’s disease can be a debilitating, painful, and dangerous condition of the inner ear. Named after 19th century French physician Prosper Meniere who studied the inner ear, it is a chronic condition most often found with varying symptoms in people in their 40s and 50s but not unheard of in other age groups, even children.
While symptoms may be relieved via various treatment methods, this chronic condition can leave lasting marks on one’s life if left untreated.
Causes and Symptoms
Although physicians don’t know for sure what causes Meniere’s disease, the most obvious hint is the presence of an abnormal volume of fluid in the inner ear.
In detail, the inner ear is made up of a cluster of cavities and passages appropriately dubbed a labyrinth, split into two types: bony (the outside of the inner ear which is made of bone) and membranous (a soft area of membrane). Therein lies endolymph, a fluid, which must remain at a certain volume, pressure, and chemical composition in order for the hair-like sensors nearby to function.
Several factors may change the volume, pressure, and/or composition of this fluid, thereby provoking an episode of Meniere’s. These include, usually in some combination:
Improper fluid drainage due to blockage or anatomic variations.
Abnormal immune response
Usually, causes like these work in combination with others to cause one or several symptoms of the disease.
Recurring episodes of vertigo. (Vertigo being spinning, dizzy sensation caused by a vestibular system dysfunction in the inner ear.) These can last spontaneously, without seeming provocation, and last from 20 minutes to 24 hours. Severe instances of vertigo may prompt nausea and vomiting.
Loss of hearing. This may vary from episode to episode, but untreated cases may result in permanent hearing loss.
Tinnitus. A person experiencing tinnitus will hear a ringing, buzzing, hissing, roaring, or whistling sound in an ear when no such sound is actually present.
Aural fullness, meaning pressure in the ear.
These symptoms may occur in clusters with long or short periods of mild to no symptoms between them. Since they occur without warning, those with Meniere’s disease are at risk of falling on hard surfaces due to vertigo or accidents while operating heavy machinery or a vehicle, not to mention permanent hearing loss.
If you experience any symptoms of Meniere’s disease, make an appointment with a doctor. Treatments include but are not limited to:
Dietary manipulations (most often a low sodium diet with alcohol and caffeine restriction)
In severe cases, surgery remains a drastic but viable option. Although potentially debilitating, there is no reason to become house-bound with Meniere’s disease. Many people life healthful, meaningful lives with the disease. You may even know some of them: Alan B. Shepard (the first American astronaut), basketball player and NHL forward Steve Francis and Mattias RItola, and possibly Marilyn Monroe and Charles Darwin.
Bio: Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education and performs research surrounding online degrees. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.