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Meniere's Disease

Meniere's disease is a periodic illness (the attacks come in phases followed by a symptom-free period) that affects the inner ear.

The inner ear is composed of the organs of balance and hearing. Meniere's disease is a long term, progressive disease which damages both the balance (semicircular canals) and hearing (the cochlea) parts of the inner ear. These are some of the main symptoms of Meniere's disease:

  • Vertigo
  • Tinnitus
  • Hearing loss

Initially it usually affects one ear, but 15% of people have both ears affected at the start of symptoms and as the disease progresses ± 50% will develop the disease in both ears.

Stress, overworked, emotional or physical, additional illnesses, pressure changes, certain foods and too much salt in the diet also seems to play a big role in speeding up the attacks.

The causes of Meniere's disease

The cause is unknown, but many factors are involved in the development of this disease. These are the factors that may be involved in causing Meniere's disease:

  • Increased pressure of the fluid in the inner ear (endolymphatic sac)
  • Allergies that damage the inner ear
  • Viral infections
  • Vascular factors
  • Autoimmune reaction
  • Migraine
  • Unknown factors

Symptoms of Meniere's disease
  • Tinnitus
  • A sensation of "fullness" or pressure in the ear
  • Loss of hearing
  • Pressure in the ear
  • Severe imbalance
  • Vertigo
  • Double vision
  • Lack of coordination
  • Recruitment
  • Disequilibrium ("brain fog")

The symptoms of Meniere's disease come in cycles; the patient suffers several episodes that last for several months at a time, then it generally subsides. Symptoms in some individuals seem to be more severe in spring, fall or when they are under extra stress.

The most frightening and unpredictable symptom of Meniere's disease is vertigo. It is thought to result from the accumulation of excessive fluid in the inner ear, this stretches the membranes that divide the compartments of the inner ear. As the membranes stretches, hearing often diminishes and tinnitus worsens. If the membrane is severely stretched, the fluids in the inner ear may rupture these compartments. This will results in the mixing of fluids (one rich in sodium, the other rich in potassium) which is thought to bring on the vertigo. These membranes will eventually heal, but some hearing is usually lost.

Loss of hearing
The loss of hearing usually affects one ear, which typically looses sensitivity to low-frequency sounds the most. Loud sounds may cause more discomfort than normal. Hearing loss alters over time; hearing may be normal one day, but then the next days hearing may be difficult. The degree of hearing loss may get progressively worse over time, eventually leading to loss of hearing completely in the affected ear.

Tinnitus is constant loud "ringing" in the ears. The tinnitus experienced by Meniere's patients is continual and does not decrease with time, its intensity may vary. It may be heard more as a load roaring, squeal, whine, hissing, humming, buzzing sensation, rather than a whistling.

Fullness or pressure in the ear
The feeling of "fullness" in the ear can be described as a barometric pressure changes (such ascending in an airplane or a car), this fullness cannot be cleared by swallowing, as in the case of pressure changes.

Dietary tips for Meniere's disease
  • Reduce the amount of salt intake (excess salt cause's pressure on the nerve endings of balance and hearing)
  • Stop smoking (it constricts and reduces blood flow to the tiny blood vessels which nourish the inner ear nerve endings)
  • Avoid caffeine in coffee, tea and colas, as well as chocolate (caffeine excessively stimulates nerve endings)
  • Exercise regularly

Additional information on Meniere's disease
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