This is a disease of the inner ear which affects hearing and sense of balance, resulting in vertigo, tinnitus and loss of hearing. Also known as “endolymphatic hydrops”,this disease is named after Prosper Ménière, who discovered that hearing disorders can cause vertigo. The cause of this disease is not known, but imbalance in the fluid of the inner ear is believed to be a major contributor.
This disease is characterized by “episodic rotational vertigo” which is a sensation of spinning, accompanied by vomiting and nausea. Tinnitus (roaring sound) may develop. Ultimately, hearing loss occurs, which is not permanent, but fluctuates and there is a pressure-like sensation in the ears.
The patient’s medical history is studied and an audiogram is performed, preferably following an episode of vertigo. This should confirm the extent of hearing loss. Other tests include an auditory brain stem response (ABR), CT scan and MRI. This helps to rule out other possibilities like tumors or other causes of vertigo.
A diuretic (water pill) is usually prescribed, accompanied by a low-salt diet. Valium also gives some relief. In extreme cases, surgery may be recommended. Three main procedures in use are insertion of an endolymphatic shunt, selective vestibular neurectomy and a labyrinthectomy.
This disease may initially restrict itself to one ear but later spread to the other one. Although it is common to lose one’s job and be on disability pay as a result of this disease, the condition is usually not permanent and the patient may return to normal life when the disease runs its course.
There is still a lot of research being carried out for the prevention of this disease. As high-salt diets are believed to induce water retention in the ears, a low intake of salt is recommended. Abstinence from alcohol and tobacco is also strongly recommended. As this disease is also believed to be caused by head injuries, using protective headgear during risky activities like certain sports, biking and motorcycle riding is suggested. Certain allergies are also thought to trigger this disease, so strict allergy control is one way of preventing it.
The cost of treatment largely depends on the severity of the symptoms, so treatment can start at a few hundred dollars but can go into thousands if CT scans and MRIs are done.