Have you or someone you know been struggling with dizziness or vertigo? Many seeking relief for these conditions often learn that they have Ménière’s disease.

The symptoms of Ménière’s disease can become debilitating, especially the vertigo, and have a negative impact on your quality of life.

Fortunately, according to Dizziness and Balance, Ménière’s disease has a prevalence of approximately 200 cases/100,000 persons in the United States, affecting less than 0.2% of the population.

The Fox Valley Ear, Nose & Throat Associates team hopes to bring relief to individuals experiencing the symptoms of Ménière’s disease by helping you understand what it is, its causes and symptoms, and how managing your condition can limit its impact.

What Is Ménière’s Disease?

Ménière’s disease gets its name from the French physician, Prosper Ménière, who first identified the inner ear disorder in 1861.

Its cause is related to an abnormality in part of the inner ear called the labyrinth, which fills up with fluid and causes a severe spinning sensation (vertigo) and can affect hearing and balance.

Ménière’s disease usually occurs in only one ear and commonly affects people between the ages of 20 and 60, though it is most common in individuals in their 40s and 50s.

The intensity, duration, and frequency of bouts of vertigo and balance issues associated with the condition are different for each person and can be triggered by different circumstances.

For example, vertigo flare-ups are more frequent during allergy season for some who experience a terrible clogged up feeling in their ears, which is intensified by the effects of allergies on the Eustachian tube, essentially multiplying its impact.

Causes and Symptoms

Although the general cause of Ménière’s disease is a buildup of fluid in the labyrinth, the reason behind the buildup is yet to be discovered. Ménière’s disease is often linked to or identified along with other conditions such as:

  • Poor fluid drainage due to a blockage or irregular ear shape
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Viral infection
  • Genetics
  • Allergies
  • Head injury
  • Migraine headaches

For some, the symptoms of a Ménière’s disease flareup can happen without warning and occur daily or infrequently. Some might experience warning signs like a feeling of pressure in your ear, an earache, tinnitus (a ringing, hissing, buzzing, or humming noise), and/or abnormal hearing.

During the flareup, which can last between 2 and 4 hours, symptoms may include:

  • vertigo (the sensation of spinning)
  • loss of balance
  • nausea and vomiting
  • hearing loss

After a flareup, your hearing will usually return to normal, but you may experience a great deal of fatigue.

Over time, the frequency, intensity, and duration of the attacks may improve, but tinnitus, hearing loss, imbalance, and other symptoms have been known to continue between attacks or after you are no longer experiencing the attacks.

How Does Ménière’s Disease Affect Patients?

As a primary symptom of Ménière’s disease, vertigo flare-ups can put you at risk of serious injury related to falling, can cause accidents while driving, and significantly limit your capacity to carry out the normal activities of daily living.

Its effects can also include depression, anxiety, and isolation as it becomes difficult to interact with work colleagues, friends, neighbors, and family.

Tinnitus and hearing loss can also become permanent issues that have a negative impact on your independent lifestyle and quality of life.

Diagnosing Ménière’s Disease

Those diagnosed with Ménière’s disease will meet the following conditions:

  • Two or more vertigo attacks lasting between 20 minutes and 12 hours or up to 24 hours
  • Hearing loss indicated by a hearing test
  • Tinnitus or a feeling of fullness or pressure in the ear

Because it can present with the same symptoms as other conditions, in order to correctly identify Ménière’s disease, your healthcare provider will need a complete medical history and physical exam along with any, several, or all of the following:

  • Hearing test
  • Balance test
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to confirm or rule out a tumor
  • Electrocochleography (ECOG), which is used to measure electrical activity of the inner ear

Gaining Control over Ménière’s Disease

The treatment plan provided by your healthcare provider will be customized to meet your specific needs based on several criteria, such as:

  • Your age
  • Your overall health and medical history
  • The intensity of your condition
  • How well you respond to various medicines, procedures, or therapies
  • Your opinions or preferences

Managing Ménière’s disease can involve any one or a combination of several treatment options.

Surgical Options

Various surgical options can help with vertigo and balance issues related to Ménière’s disease, including:

  • Endolymphatic sac surgery, which relieves pressure around the endolymphatic sac, improving fluid levels
  • Labyrinthectomy in which the surgeon removes the parts of the ear causing vertigo. This results in permanent hearing loss in the ear involved in the procedure.
  • Vestibular nerve section, which involves cutting the vestibular nerve to block balance and movement information from your inner ear to the brain. It improves vertigo and allows you to continue hearing in the affected ear.

Prescription Medications

Prescription medications can help control allergies, reduce fluid buildup, improve blood circulation in the inner ear, or limit the intensity of vertigo during flare-ups by using medications such as:

  • Motion sickness medicines (meclizine or diazepam)
  • Anti-nausea medicines (promethazine)
  • Diuretics to decrease the fluid level in the inner ear
  • Betahistines to improve blood flow to the inner ear

Lifestyle Changes

Various lifestyle changes are often the most effective means of reducing Ménière’s disease flare-ups in either frequency or intensity.

This option may include behavioral therapies to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression or changes to your diet, such as eliminating caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, and salt.

Find Relief for Your Condition

The vertigo produced by Ménière’s disease flare-ups can have a significant negative impact on your active, independent lifestyle and your overall quality of life.

Although the cause and cure of Ménière’s disease is yet to be discovered, our team of healthcare professionals at Fox Valley Ear, Nose & Throat Associates can provide the relief you need through a variety of treatments designed to manage your symptoms.

Use the adjacent “Request a Callback” form for more information about Ménière’s disease, or give us a call to schedule a consultation at (847) 854-0005 (Algonquin), (847) 741-8500 (Elgin), (630) 377-5000 (St. Charles), or (847) 741-8500 (Huntley).

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David S. Hemmer, M.D.

Dr. Hemmer is board certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology. He received his doctor of medicine at the University of Illinois in 1974.