This article explains Ménière's disease and how it can cause you to experience hearing loss.
What Is Ménière's Disease?
Ménière's disease is a disorder of the inner ear. It affects approximately one in every 1000 people and can lead to dizziness (such as vertigo) and hearing loss. It's considered a chronic condition, nevertheless, there are a few treatment options that can relieve your symptoms and allow you to live a good quality of life.
Usually, people find that Ménière's disease affects only one ear. It can occur at any age although some reports conflict about whether it is more common in young adulthood and middle age or more likely to affect adults between 40 and 60 years of age.
Why Do People Get Ménière's Disease?
The National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) estimates that around 615,000 individuals in the U.S. are diagnosed with Ménière’s disease with over 45,500 newly-diagnosed cases each year.
There are no definite answers as to why people develop Ménière’s disease. Possibilities include it being a result of constrictions in blood vessels like those that cause migraine headaches, a result of viral infections, allergies, genetics (as if often runs in families), and autoimmune reactions.
Research into the causes of Ménière’s disease is still ongoing.
Meniere’s Disease Causes and Symptoms
Strangely, the cause of Ménière’s disease is unknown, but symptoms seem to be the result of an abnormal amount of fluid (endolymph) in the inner ear. Exactly what causes this to happen is unknown.
Some factors affect the fluid which can contribute to this occurrence:
- Improper fluid drainage — this might be due to blockage or anatomic abnormality
- Viral infections
- Head injury or trauma
- Abnormal immune responses
- You might have a genetic predisposition that leads to abnormalities in the volume or regulation of endolymph fluid
A combination of causes is likely to lead to most cases of Ménière's disease. As no single cause has been identified, this would seem to suggest that it simply isn’t straightforward, and many factors are usually at play.
You might have Ménière's disease if you experience:
- Recurring bouts of vertigo (a dizzy, spinning sensation). This might start and stop spontaneously, and occur without warning. This might also occur after a short period of tinnitus or muffled hearing and you might also feel nauseous. Episodes can last 20 minutes to a few hours, but not for more than 24 hours. You could have single attacks of dizziness separated by long periods of time or attacks closer together over a number of days.
- Drop attacks — episodes of vertigo so extreme that you lose your balance and fall.
- Tinnitus — ringing, buzzing, roaring, or hissing in the ear that is either intermittent or continuous.
- Hearing loss, which might come and go in the early stages of having the condition. Over time many people develop permanent hearing loss.
- A feeling of fullness or pressure in the affected ear (aural fullness).
These symptoms will fluctuate with your episodes, which might become less frequent as time goes on.
Ménière’s disease is normally diagnosed by an otolaryngologist or rather, an ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT). As there is no definitive test a doctor can use to give you a diagnosis, it all depends on your medical history and whether you have experienced:
- Two or more episodes of vertigo (lasting at least 20 minutes each)
- Temporary hearing loss (a hearing test might be conducted)
- A feeling of fullness in your ear
A doctor might send for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans of your brain to be sure that there isn’t an underlying medical condition causing your symptoms that requires urgent treatment.
How to Manage a Meniere’s Disease Attack
Home remedies that can help you manage your attacks include sitting or lying down when you feel dizzy, resting during and after attacks, and doing what you can to keep your balance to prevent falls. Keep your eyes closed or fixated on an immobile object and try not to move your head too quickly.
After an attack, moving around might trigger your eyesight and other senses to compensate for the issues with your ear.
Limiting salt, caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco might also reduce your attacks.
You can take some medications for the dizziness and nausea as discussed in ‘Treatments’ below.
Does Meniere’s Disease Cause Hearing Loss?
Ménière's disease can lead to hearing loss and usually causes people to have trouble hearing low frequencies or combined high and low frequencies but normal hearing in the midrange frequencies.
In fact, a hearing test (audiometry) will form part of your diagnostic assessment.
Is It Permanent?
As Ménière's disease has no cure and can cause permanent hearing loss, this will have a long-term impact on your life and might cause you stress and anxiety.
Sadly, this hearing loss can’t be treated but can be helped with the use of a hearing aid depending on the type of hearing loss.
Treatment for Meniere’s Disease
Ménière's disease can’t currently be cured. If you’re a sufferer of the condition this might be distressing for you to hear. However, several treatments can work on reducing the severity and frequency of your vertigo episodes.
It’s also important to remember that six in ten individuals with Ménière's disease are expected to get better on their own or be able to manage their symptoms very effectively with medications, diet, devices, and home remedies.
Your physician might decide to prescribe you medications that will help to reduce the intensity of your vertigo attacks. Meclizine or diazepam (Valium) is often used to treat motion sickness and might help your sensations of spinning and any nausea or vomiting. Promethazine is an anti-nausea medication that might help with this too.
Cognitive therapy (a type of talk therapy helping people to focus on how they interpret and react to life experiences) might be effective as a strategy in helping you mentally deal with the unpredictable nature of your vertigo attacks.
Pressure pulse treatment through a device that fits into the outer ear might ease the condition and the treatment has recently been approved by the FDA. It works by delivering intermittent air pressure pulses to the middle ear, which act on endolymph fluid to stop your dizziness.
As mentioned, any hearing loss experienced can’t be cured, but a hearing aid might be able to improve your hearing. Ask your doctor if they can refer you to an audiologist.
If these treatments don’t help and you’re really struggling with your symptoms, your doctor might suggest some other treatments such as an endolymphatic sac procedure, a labyrinthectomy, and (rarely) a vestibular nerve section.
If you experience symptoms of Ménière's disease, see your doctor. As the signs of Ménière's can also be symptomatic of other conditions, it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis. If you have another illness and it’s left untreated, this could be bad news. Get an accurate diagnosis from a medical professional.
Your doctor will be able to rule out the possibility of other issues such as a brain tumor or multiple sclerosis with blood tests and imaging scans (MRI).
To find out more about hearing loss and its causes, see our other blog articles.
The information in this guide has been written using the following reliable sources: