Meniere's disease is a condition of the inner ear which may cause attacks of hearing loss, vertigo, tinnitus or ear pressure.
The exact cause is not known. It is believed that Meniere’s disease may be caused by:
- Build up of fluid in the labyrinth from time to time
- Virus infections of the ear
- Salt imbalance in the labyrinth fluid
- Faulty immune system.
- Dulled hearing in the affected ear(s).
- Vertigo (dizziness with a spinning sensation).
- Tinnitus (a ringing, roaring, or buzzing noise which you can hear from inside the affected ear)
- A sense of fullness or pressure inside the ear.
- Loud noises may seem unpleasant and distorted.
Understanding the cause of the symptoms is often helpful in itself. Although Meniere's disease can be unpleasant, it is not due to cancer, or to a brain or nerve disorder. There is no cure for Meniere's disease, but symptoms can be helped.
If you have mild or infrequent attacks then you may not need or want any treatment to prevent the attacks. You may just prefer to treat each attack as it arises with a short course of medicine such as prochlorperazine or cinnarizine. Sometimes an injection is needed to help stop an attack of dizziness and vomiting.
If needed, treatments which can help to prevent attacks include the following.
- Betahistine is thought to increase the blood flow around the inner ear. This may reduce the amount of fluid inside the labyrinth and prevent symptoms from developing. If one takes betahistine every day it is unlikely to stop all attacks, but it may reduce the number and/or severity of attacks. It does not work in all cases.
- Other medicines are sometimes tried on the advice of a specialist. For example, diuretics or beta-blockers may help in some cases.
- Surgery may be an option if one has bad or frequent attacks of vertigo. Surgery aims to control vertigo which has not been helped by other means. About 1 in 10 people with Meniere's disease have surgery at some stage.
There is little research evidence to prove that diet and lifestyle can help. However, some people claim that their symptoms improve by one or more of the following:
- A low salt diet. This may help to reduce the fluid build up in the inner ear
- Regular exercise and methods to combat stress
- Quit smoking
- Food triggers. There seems to be a link between migraine and Meniere's disease in some people. Food triggers are known to cause migraine attacks in some people. A similar trigger may contribute to some attacks of Meniere's disease. For example, cutting out caffeine (found in tea, coffee, cola, and chocolate) and alcohol may be worth trying
Treatment of permanent hearing loss and tinnitus: You may need a hearing aid at some stage. Tinnitus is difficult to treat. Tinnitus maskers (noise generators) are sometimes tried. These are similar to hearing aids but produce 'white noise' which helps to mask the tinnitus. Some people have found 'coping strategies', relaxation training, counselling, and other such techniques useful to combat tinnitus.
Since the cause for the disease is not yet clear, there is no prevention for Meniere's disease.