Meniere’s Syndrome is an inner ear disorder that causes dizziness, vertigo, tinnitus, hearing loss, and a feeling of fullness in the ear. It usually affects only one ear, and is most common in adults between the ages of 40 and 60.
What Causes Meniere’s Syndrome?
Meniere’s Syndrome occurs when fluid builds up in the labyrinth of the inner ear. This structure contains the balance (semicircular canals and otolithic organs) and hearing (cochlea) organs. It’s filled with a fluid that stimulates receptors when the body moves, sending signals to the brain about the body’s position and movement. In the cochlea, this fluid is compressed in response to sound vibrations. With Meniere’s Syndrome, the excess fluid interferes with the signals between the inner ear and brain, causing vertigo and related symptoms.
The exact cause of Meniere’s Syndrome is unknown. It may be a result of circulation disorders, viral infections, allergies, migraines, head injury, obstructions in the ear canal, and autoimmune reactions. Genetics could also play a role, as Meniere’s Syndrome tends to run in families.
Symptoms & Treatment
The main symptoms of Meniere’s Syndrome are recurring episodes of severe vertigo that come on without warning and last anywhere from 20 minutes to 24 hours. These may occur several times a week, or only once every few years. Vertigo may be accompanied by fluctuating hearing loss, a ringing in the ear known as tinnitus, and a feeling of fullness in the ear. Additional symptoms are a possibility, and include anxiety, blurred vision, trembling, rapid pulse, nausea, and vomiting.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Meniere’s Syndrome. However, treatment options to manage symptoms are helpful for the majority of patients.
During an episode, medications for vertigo may be used to reduce the severity of symptoms and shorten the attack. These include motion sickness and anti-nausea drugs such as meclizine, diazepam, and lorazepam. Diuretics to reduce fluid retention in the inner ear may be a viable long-term solution, coupled with a reduced sodium diet.
Middle ear injections with an antibiotic called gentamicin can help control vertigo, but can also lead to hearing loss. Steroids such as dexamethasone may be substituted, and while slightly less effective, they carry fewer risks of long term hearing loss.
Vestibular rehabilitation therapy involves exercises designed to help your body and brain regain the ability to correctly process balance information.
Pressure pulse treatment with a Meniett device can improve symptoms of vertigo, but its long-term effectiveness is currently in question. The device delivers pulses of pressure to the ear canal, improving fluid movement.
The most severe cases of Meniere’s Syndrome may require surgery. Procedures include labyrinthectomy and vestibular nerve section.