Have you ever heard of Meniere’s Disease? If your answer is no, you are not alone. This is a very rare condition affecting approximately .2% of the population. That .2%, however, struggle with on-going Meniere’s Disease symptoms on a regular basis.
Meniere’s Disease begins with problems in the inner ear. Typically only one ear is effected. The result of Meniere’s is feeling like the whole world is spinning like a top. Remember when you were a child and twirled until you fell down? Well people with Meniere’s have that feeling often. It’s also accompanied by ringing in that ear (Tinnitus) and sometimes feeling like the ear is filled with something causing pressure.
For more information read What is Meniere’s Disease.
Most people who experience Meniere’s disease are between the ages of 20 and 50. This condition creates long term problems for the sufferer, even though Meniere’s is chronic in nature.
This is one of the key symptoms of Meniere’s Disease. You can be sitting perfectly still and feel dizzy. Alternatively the sensation makes you feel off-center as if you’re moving when you are not. These bouts come and go and vary in duration.
To understand Vertigo you need to know a little bit about ears. Sound travels to your ear drum through the ear canal. Bones in the inner ear are the brain’s translators. They turn sound into a vibration that travels to your brain. Everything in the inner ear has high sensitivity so that we can get immediate feedback about that sound.
There are some types of vertigo that start in the spinal cord or brain. Meniere’s vertigo is considered peripheral. The inner ear experiences fluid build up. Some instances of Meniere’s-related vertigo begin with body movements like rolling over in your bed, standing up quickly or tilting your head. These movements make you feel faint, and can also result in nausea. If someone were to examine you at this moment your eyes may be moving abnormally.
When vertigo accompanies weakness, disorientation or lateral signs of coordingtation loss, this symptom may be a sign of a stroke rather than Meniere’s disease presenting itself.
The average vertigo symptom of Meniere’s disease lasts for at least 20 minutes, and sometimes a whole day.
A second Meniere’s disease symptom is hearing loss. At the beginning of Meniere’s your hearing aptitude may change – some days good, and some days worse. The hearing loss in one ear can become permanent over time.
Meniere’s patients say that their ears feel plugged. Sounds are fuzzy or “off” somehow. Some also experience sound sensitivity. The difference between hearing in the two ears creates mismatched brain signals resulting in distortion. So, it becomes difficult for the Meniere’s sufferer to hear things properly, particularly in a noisy space. Additionally, loud noises can become literally painful.
When you only have one good ear, you can’t always figure out the direction of a sound. Because your other ear has some loss, you always feel like sounds are coming from the other side. To make matters worse, sufferers have a natural tendency to turn their head so that the good ear faces the discussion or situation, resulting in neck stiffness or soreness.
Some Meniere’s patients find that hearing aids allay some of the hearing loss symptoms.
Tinnitus – Ringing in the Ear
Unlike Meniere’s Disease, Tinnitus is far more common affecting about 50 million people in the United States alone. It is hard to describe Tinnitus, no matter the cause. Some experience it as a steady sound, like one long radio frequency that never goes away. Others hear:
- A hum or buzz.
- Trills or whistling.
- Roaring like waves or wind.
- A musical note.
- Chirping like crickets.
Some have a combination of these sounds. Tinnitus may be continuous or intermittent, and differs in loudness. Some find it’s more apparent when rooms are quiet (like when you’re trying to sleep). As a result, some people loose concentration or experience insomnia.
Tinnitus has some connection to hearing loss but it doesn’t cause the loss. It also affects sound sensitivity where a person becomes reacts badly to specific types of noise. And, like many other physical issues, may have a wide variety of causes other than Mieniere’s disease.
These causes include:
Long term exposure to loud sounds (this is the most common cause that also impacts hearing loss. Jobs like repairing streets, demolition, and being a rock musician are all considered “at risk” careers.
- Ear wax buildup.
- Ear infections.
- Auditory nerve tumor
- Medication side effects: drugs including antidepressants, sedatives and antibiotics all have this potential, just to name a few.
- Aging: as we get older the inner ear may experience deterioration.
- TMJ – a condition of the jaw.
- Under-active thyroid.
- Circulatory issues or anemia.
- Autoimmune diseases.
- Head or neck injury.
- Alcohol, caffeine and smoking may may Tinnitus worse.
Needless to say, this Meniere’s Disease symptom is incredibly distracting. It’s also important to note that some Meniere’s patients experience Tinnitus without vertigo.
Stuffy or Full Ear
If you have Meniere’s there may be times when you feel pressure in your effected ear similar to being in an airplane or being under water. Unlike the last two situations, however, this feeling will not be alleviated by swallowing, chewing or yawning. This can be very uncomfortable, especially when its accompanied by other Meniere’s symptoms like vertigo and tinnitus.
There are other conditions besides Meniere’s that cause ear pressure, so if you experience that feeling don’t jump to conclusions. Some of the most common causes of ear fullness include:
- Ear wax buildup
- A cold
- An ear infection
Please check with your primary physician to rule out these problems, or diagnose them and provide a care plan for relief.
Nausia and Vomitting
Feeling sick isn’t uncommon for people experiencing a bout of Meniere’s vertigo. When these attacks come on, the longer they last the more likely it becomes that you may feel like you have the flu. Some physicians recommend having over-the-counter motion sickness medications on hand for management.
In some harsh moments, you may even have diarrhea. This combined with vomiting is the reason why physicians recommend that Meniere’s sufferers stay well hydrated.
Unusual Eye Motion
During a Meniere’s episode some people have odd, rapid eye movements. It may be only one eye or both resulting in blurry vision. Generally the eyes move side to side, which only increases the vertigo feelings.
As the name implies, this Meniere’s disease symptom literally brings a person to the floor. This is known as Tumarkin’s otholithic crisis. Most instances of drop attacks occur in later states of Meniere’s for some patients.
The drop attack makes you feel like someone pushed you forcefully resulting in a fall. This pushing sensation goes away quickly. You do not loose consciousness, but your balance may remain off for a while thereafter.
Cold Sweats and Weariness
If you’ve ever had hot or cold flashes, then you understand how some Meniere’s sufferers feel during some episodes. Vertigo seems to set them off, so your physician may prescribe medicine that helps allay the dizziness.
Beyond this Meniere’s disease impacts a person’s energy level greatly. That very same fatigue may cause some flare ups. This means the sufferer has to focus on getting enough rest and not over-extending themselves.
There is no question that any chronic disease impacts mental health. Meniere’s disease is no exception. People report their Miniere’s disease symptoms as including mood change especially before an episode. There’s also anxiety, wondering when the next attack may come. While Meniere’s disease may not be the whole root of mood changes, its something of which to remain aware and potentially seek out counseling or other aid.
Migraines are not often discussed in terms of Meniere’s but they can certainly be one symptom. Certainly diet and lifestyle contribute to severe headaches, but people with Meniere’s sometimes get migraines during an episode.
Seeing a Physician
When you experience a semi-regular symptom of Meniere’s (or a combination of them) you should consider seeing your Primary. It may take various tests before you receive a prognosis, which may or may not be Meniere’s. Any one of the signs of Meniere’s can be caused by other underlying conditions.
Tests Measuring Meniere’s Disease Symptoms
At your initial visit to your physician he or she may request a variety of tests that help determine if your problem truly is Meniere’s Disease. These tests include
Hearing Tests: Auditory tests measure hearing loss based on both loudness and pitch, as well as differentiating between similar sounds. Those tests will also show which ear (if either) has been impacted.
Balance Tests: These illustrate how well your inner ear functions. A balance test may include a rotary chair where your eye movements are recorded while the chair’s in motion. Another test uses standing on a platform and measuring your reactions to different angles of that platform.
MRI or CT scan: A scan of this nature allows the doctor to see if there may be another cause for your symptoms such as a brain tumor or multiple sclerosis. These are very non-evasive in nature and usually don’t take very long.
What Causes Meniere’s Disease Symptoms?
At this juncture the exact underlying cause for Meniere’s isn’t understood by the medical community. There are some theories, however. These include:
Abnormal ear drainage caused by physical irregularities or blockage.
- Viral Infections
- Head injuries (like TBI)
- Allergic reactions
- Autoimmune system problems or responses
- Genetic predispositions
Most people who study and treat Meniere’s disease feel that more than one of these causes probably exist in most patients. No mater the source there are some complications that you may experience if you have Meniere’s. For one, dizziness can be very dangerous at home, work, or when driving. Vertigo increases the risk of accidents. For another, hearing loss interrupts your life and often has an emotional impact.
Treating Meniere’s Disease Symptoms
There is no known cure for Meniere’s. In some people it just seems to disappear and never return. In others who are not so fortunate a variety of treatments exist:
Products used for motion sickness help ease the nausea and vomiting from vertigo. You can get those over the counter. Alternatively a presecription for an Antiemetic offsets nausia and one for a diuretic helps keep water retention in your body to a minimum (the hope being that it helps your ear too).
There are exercises that vertigo patients can use for improving balance. The idea is helping your brain recognize the difference between your good ear and your bad one. Such activities are illustrated and monitored by a physical therapist.
Since not hearing well contributes to vertigo symptoms, a hearing aid may help. It also offsets the hearing loss that comes with some Meniere’s attacks, or loss that becomes long-term.
Surgery is a last resort treatment for Meniere’s used for people who continue having severe episodes and where other treatments have failed to provide any relief. One surgery provides a way for improved inner ear fluid drainage. Another cuts a nerve in the ear going to the brain, reducing vertigo symptoms without the danger of further hearing loss. If a person has total hearing loss in one ear, the surgeon may opt for removing the inner ear as a work-around for improving balance.
Living with Meniere’s Disease Symptoms
At the end of the day you received confirmation that you do, indeed, have Meniere’s disease. Now what? First, don’t panic. While this condition has debilitating aspects you can make some personal changes that either help with how you cope, or potentially lessen the severity of attacks and symptoms.
Meniere’s Disease at Home
The first step in this process is focusing on self care. A lot of people forget how very important self care is to their overall well-being. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating a well balanced diet? Do you drink enough water? Do you do nice things for yourself once in a while that are truly just FOR YOU.
If that sounds a bit like something your mother said, she probably did without ever hearing about Meniere’s Disease. Common sense approaches to your condition usually help, and they don’t take a lot of time or effort other than periodic self checks. Home should be your haven where you can leave anxiety behind you and hit the reset button. This is vital because it appears that stress can trigger some Meniere’s symptoms.
Also it’s important to talk to your family about your specific Meniere’s Disease symptoms as well as the progress of the condition. Let them know what to expect and how they can help. Maybe have a plan in place for when you have a drop attack or a long period of vertigo. I.E. who will help you around the house so you can sit still and rest until the episode ends? Also tell them what gives you relief. Have a designated spot for any medications you require as soon as symptoms begin and let everyone know where it is.
Remember that the vertigo aspect of Meniere’s is the one that usually frightens people the most. Get your family or friends involved and let them offer ideas too. Look around your house for ways to change things for safety. For example, do you have a fall alert device? Do you have hand holds in places around the house where another stabilizing piece of furniture isn’t accessible? Do you keep walkways clear so you don’t trip during a dizzy spell? These are very simple approaches for creating a healthier environment for yourself.
While no one can confirm completely how dietary changes may help your Meniere’s there do seem to be some commonalities. Decrease your intake of MSG/salt, caffeine, junk food and alcohol. Increase your water and organic food intake. Have a regular eating schedule.
Consider adding dietary supplements to your daily regime. Some recommendations for Meniere’s disease symptoms include vitamin C, Calcium, Grape Seed extract, Omega oils, lipoflavonoid and a general multi-vitamin. These support your immune system, keeping your body tuned up, so to speak.
Whatever strategies you decide to use for Meniere’s disease symptoms, keep communicating with your physician. If one of the treatments he or she recommended doesn’t show a reasonable impact on your condition over a period of time, let them know so you can try something else (or a combination of approaches).
Most importantly be patient with yourself. You are not going to learn about all the subtitles of Meniere’s overnight, especially how it impacts you personally. Consider creating a Meniere’s symptom diary where you log what happened, when, the duration of the episode, what you ate that day and other environmental conditions at the time. This log may begin to show trigger patterns that can help you better manage your Meniere’s, and possibly avoid long, intense attacks by circumventing those switches altogether. Take back some control – that alone makes you feel a lot better!