May 30, 2012

Meniere’s Disease

Parker,-Molly-NEWBy Dr. Molly Parker
Parker Audiology, PC

Often after a holiday weekend, I see an increase of patients with complaints of terrible vertigo (dizziness), ringing of the ears, a feeling of fullness in the ear and hearing loss. It is suspected that rich holiday meals and high sodium intake contribute to these episodes. These symptoms can be severe and usually last a few hours and then go away. With good reason, many people go to the emergency room to get their symptoms checked out. If you ever have concerns that you have a serious emergency, call 911 immediately.

Meniere’s Disease is a relatively common inner ear disease that affects hearing and balance. It is believed to be caused by excess fluid build up in the vestibular and the cochlea organs which affect balance and hearing. While no one knows why the fluid is retained in the inner ear, it is believed that sodium plays a role. This fluid retention is usually temporary but can result in severe–though not life threatening–symptoms. Often symptoms occur after a high sodium meal. Tinnitus (a rushing sound) and a feeling of fullness (hearing loss) are usually precursors to severe vertigo, which can last a few hours, leaving the victim feeling exhausted when it is over. Nausea and vomiting are common during a true Meniere’s attack. Unfortunately, it is possible to have multiple attacks. Often there is a referral
to an otolaryngologist (ENT physician) for suggestions on managing the disease. With repeated attacks, hearing loss can become permanent and progressive. Meniere’s Disease typically affects one ear, but occasionally it can affect both ears.

For someone who has Meniere’s Disease, lifelong management is necessary by way of controlling diet, typically by significantly reducing sodium intake and/or taking “water pills” to reduce fluid build up. Occasionally additional medical therapy is necessary to get through the attacks. In the most severe cases, surgical options may be discussed by your ear specialist. Those with Meniere’s Disease often need amplification to help with their progressive hearing loss.

There are many other disorders that can cause similar symptoms as Meniere’s Disease. Dizziness is a complex symptom with multiple and sometimes life-threatening causes. Your symptoms should be discussed with your physician. Often many tests are done to rule out serious life threatening problems. Sometimes multiple specialists are called in for an opinion, again because many body systems can cause dizziness.