While many people have hearing loss or tinnitus caused by aging, or by exposure to very loud environmental noise, hearing loss can also be caused by Meniere’s disease. This disease, named after the French doctor who discovered the illness in the 1800s, causes pain in the ear, along with an uncomfortable pressure, dizziness, hearing loss, vertigo, and even tinnitus.
What is Meniere’s Disease?
Meniere’s disease is an inner ear disease that often affects only one ear. A build up of pressure in the inner ear leads to vertigo, dizziness, or even nausea. Meniere’s disease also leads to permanent hearing loss and tinnitus.
Meniere’s disease is usually diagnosed in middle aged adults in their 40s and 50s, though people of any age can get Meniere’s disease. Sadly, there is no cure for Meniere’s disease, and treatment options aim to minimize symptoms and manage pain.
What Causes Meniere’s Disease?
Scientists still don’t know exactly what causes Meniere’s disease, but it usually starts with a painful buildup of pressure in the inner ear. A number of things could cause this pressure or swelling, including:
- A head or neck injury
- An ear infection and build-up of fluid in the inner or middle ear
- A respiratory infection
- An allergic reaction
- Heightened stress levels
Symptoms of Meniere’s Disease
The most common symptoms of Meniere’s disease are a buildup of pressure in the ear, leading to frequent dizzy spells, as well as hearing loss and tinnitus. These symptoms usually occur together, and an attack can last anywhere from several minutes to a few hours. Many people will experience a few attacks over the course of several days, then enjoy longer periods with no episodes.
Stages of Meniere’s Disease
There are three stages of Meniere’s Disease, slowly worsening over time. In the first stage, symptoms are mild and occur infrequently. Short bouts of vertigo, and a feeling that the ear is full or stuffed are the most common symptoms during this time. Tinnitus may also begin to develop during the first stage.
In the middle stage of Meniere’s disease, hearing loss and tinnitus get worse, while the experience of vertigo usually lessens. Episodes will be infrequent, and some people won’t experience any attacks for several months at a time.
In the final stage, bouts of vertigo are even less common, but hearing loss and tinnitus can become severe. Balance issues will also develop, and people may feel unstable when walking.
Meniere’s Disease and Hearing Loss
Meniere’s disease is closely linked to hearing loss, and as the disease progresses, hearing loss and tinnitus worsen. Meniere’s disease often causes low-frequency hearing loss, or hearing loss that affects low pitched sounds. Over time, hearing loss will begin to impact both ears.
Managing Meniere’s Disease
There is no cure for Meniere’s disease, but there are ways to effectively manage the disease, and control the symptoms. Changes in diet may help manage symptoms, and it’s possible that reducing sodium intake will relieve some of the pressure in the ear, and reduce symptoms of vertigo and hearing loss. Avoiding alcohol and caffeine may also help manage tinnitus, and bring some relief from Meniere’s disease.
Smoking has been linked to a variety of health concerns, and smoking can make Meniere’s symptoms more severe. Stopping smoking may reduce symptoms, or reduce the number of attacks. Stress management techniques, such as breathing exercises or meditation, can also help lower the severity of attacks, since higher stress levels are linked to both Meniere’s disease and tinnitus.
Treating Hearing Loss
If you’ve experienced hearing loss or tinnitus from Meniere’s disease, treating hearing loss with hearing aids will help you hear clearly. Hearing aids are calibrated to your unique hearing loss, so whether you suffer from high-frequency or low-frequency hearing loss, your hearing aids will help you hear the sounds you’ve been missing
Modern hearing aids also have sophisticated tinnitus therapy programs that will help you manage tinnitus through sound masking programs. You’ll be able to enjoy your day without tinnitus, feel less stressed, and easily focus on tasks without that ringing or buzzing in the ear.
Meniere’s disease is treated by ENT physicians who can recommend the best treatment options to manage your symptoms, treat hearing loss, and reduce vertigo and dizziness.