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Meniere's disease is defined as a disorder of the inner ear where the patient experiences the following issues:

  • A feeling that the head is spinning, called vertigo.
  • Fluctuating hearing loss which may result in eventual permanent hearing loss.
  • Ringing in the ears, called tinnitus.
  • Feeling of pressure or fullness in the ear.

This condition usually involves only one ear and it can occur in any age, but the usual age group is between 20-50 years.

Specific details regarding the signs and symptoms

  • The episodes of vertigo are recurring - these episodes can start and stop spontaneously without any warning to the patient. They can last anywhere between 20 minutes and a few hours, but not more than 24 hours. Severe episodes of vertigo can cause the patient to become nauseous and vomit
  • The hearing loss - this hearing loss seems to come and go in the early stages of the disease. The sounds which are difficult to hear tend to be high-pitched ones such as a phone ringing. This can gradually lead to patients experiencing a complete loss of their hearing.
  • Tinnitus - this sound is perceived as being a buzzing, ringing, hissing, roaring or whistling sound which is experienced in the affected ear.
  • Pressure effect on the ear - patients report that they experience a feeling of fullness or as if something is pressing on the affected ear or even on the sides of the head.

Causes

The cause of this condition seems to be unknown, but a theory suggests that it could be caused by an abnormal amount of fluid in the inner ear, called endolymph. Factors which could influence this fluid include the following:

  • Possible anatomical abnormality or blockage of the inner ear which results in improper endolymph drainage.
  • Allergies.
  • An abnormal immune response.
  • Head trauma.
  • Family history of this condition.
  • Migraines.
Since no single cause of Meniere's disease has been associated with this condition, it seems that a combination of multiple factors may be involved in its development. 

Complications

The fact that this condition can result in total hearing loss, as well as the unpredictability or vertigo, can disrupt an affected individual's quality of life. This causes increased emotional stress on the patient and they may end up showing signs of anxiety and/or depression

Vertigo can cause such severe dizziness that it can cause the patient to fall and sustain an injury, or they can be involved in potentially catastrophic accidents while operating heavy machinery or driving.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of Meniere's disease is made when a patient fulfills the following criteria:

  • They report at least 2 episodes of vertigo, with each of them lasting at least 20 minutes but not longer than 24 hours.
  • Hearing loss is verified by performing a formal hearing test.
  • The patients report tinnitus or a feeling of pressure in the affected ear.
  • Other causes of the above symptoms should be excluded.

Management

There is no cure for this disorder, but certain medications can be used to decrease the severity of the vertigo such as motion sickness and anti-emetic medications.

Diuretic medication may be prescribed in order to reduce fluid retention, as this can help to control the frequency and severity of the symptoms. 

Hearing aids can be incorporated in order to allow affected patients to hear better.

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