The first question I am usually asked is, why do you wear hearing aids? When I answer that I have Menieres Disease the inevitable follow up question is normally, what is Menieres Disease? Not many people have ever heard of it and even fewer understand it.
Menieres Disease is a long term, progressive condition that affects the hearing and balance parts of the inner ear. It has three main components that make up the disease. Hearing loss, tinnitus and vertigo (not to be confused with a dizzy spell).
The human ear is a very complicated organ that can have a massive effect on people’s lives. It can affect us in a variety of ways such as hearing disorders, balance issues and tinnitus to name just a few. For such a small body part the consequences when it goes wrong can be huge.
The effects of the three main components of Menieres Disease.
This one may sound straight forward but for Menieres suffers it is anything but. The levels of hearing loss suffered with Menieres can fluctuate. During normal periods my hearing level sits at severe. During a vertigo attack my hearing can disappear altogether and then come back slowly to it’s normal level again. These fluctuations can make wearing hearing aids difficult as I have to continually adjust the volume levels.
Tinnitus is often described as a ringing, rushing or whooshing noise in one or both ears. It can be intermittent meaning that it comes and goes or some, like myself, have to live with it 24/7. Most sufferers of this condition will tell you that night time is particularly bad. During the day other surrounding noises can help to reduce the effect of tinnitus but at night time when things are quieter this constant sound can be a major cause of annoyance and sleep depravation.
Without doubt, for me, this is by far the worst aspect of Menieres Disease. I am not talking about a little dizzy spell here. I am talking about a total lack of coordination and sense of where I am. I can’t get grounded to one spot and can’t get a focal point anywhere. It is very debilitating and added to the nausea and vomiting that go with such attacks it can be very upsetting for both myself and others who witness it.
These vertigo attacks can last from only a few minutes right up to and beyond 24 hours at a time. They also seem to come in clusters. You may get a few days between them or weeks or longer but you never know when the next one could happen. Some of these vertigo attacks happen so suddenly that the sufferer can simply hit the ground without warning. This can then lead to other injuries and can have a major effect on the persons confidence and general lifestyle.
Not everyone with this condition will get all 3 symptoms in extreme and the effects will also differ from person to person. There are also what is called the three stages of Menieres Disease. Whilst there is no cure for this disease it is generally felt that the sufferer will go through these three stages during their life with Menieres.
Stage 1. (Early)
The main feature of Menieres Disease in this early stage is the unpredictable nature of the vertigo attacks. These attacks can be for short or long periods. They can arrive virtually anytime and happen anywhere. This inevitably has an effect on people’s lives. We can be reluctant to socialise or even leave the house for fear of an attack.
During this stage tinnitus will make it’s appearance, or if the person already has it then it is likely to increase during these attacks. The hearing will go up and down like a yoyo and the sufferer can become very agitated or withdrawn. It is the unpredictability of this stage that make this condition so distressing.
Stage 2. (Intermediate)
During this stage the vertigo attacks will continue to be unpredictable but may begin to be less severe. The person will begin to notice periods of increased imbalance between vertigo attacks. This is due to damage in the inner ear. The sufferers hearing will continue to deteriorate but will still fluctuate during vertigo attacks. The tinnitus will become more pronounced even between attacks.
Stage 3. (Later)
During this stage Menieres sufferers will see a switch in focus of the disease. Very often the vertigo attacks will lessen in severity or even stop altogether. However there will be permanent damage to the balance organ in the ear and sufferers will face severe balance problems going forward. The tinnitus will likely continue unabated but the real change comes with the hearing loss. It will become much more pronounced, severe and distorted. Unfortunately, once this stage is reached it is a case of managing it rather than fixing it.
Just like the three components above different people will experience the three stages of this disease in slightly different ways. For some the hearing loss may be worse than the vertigo and for others it will be the other way round.
One other component of Menieres Disease that is rarely talked about is the “fullness” sensation in the ears. Not everyone gets it but it can be very distressing for those who do. As described earlier, to me it feels like someone is inside my head and trying to push out with both hands through my ears. The severity of it comes and goes but I use it as an early warning sign that vertigo is about to hit me. When I feel the pressure building I know what is coming and can at least get myself prepared.
How do you get diagnosed with Menieres Disease?
There is no one single test (such as a blood test) that can diagnose a person as having Menieres Disease. It is generally a case of looking at all the other possibilities and doing tests to rule them out. Those results together with the onset of the three components above will give a pretty conclusive final diagnoses.
Menieres Disease will affect both males and females equally. Only about 10% of those diagnosed have a family history of it. It affects between 1:1000 and 1:2000 of the population depending on where you source your information which equates to a lot of people worldwide affected by this debilitating condition.
What treatments are available for Menieres Disease?
All the treatments out there are aimed at controlling the symptoms of menieres disease. For hearing loss there are a wide variety of hearing aids and assistive listening devices available. There are products that can be of assistance in reducing the effects of tinnitus and there are various medicines that may be able to help with the very worst of vertigo.
Menieres Disease is symptomatic, meaning that it is the symptoms that have to be dealt with rather than the overall condition. Treatments are also very much people driven. Everyone will experience Menieres a bit differently, therefore the treatments will be tailored to the individual and their particular circumstances. Treatments will typically include medicines, diet, tinnitus management, lifestyle changes, hearing aids and counselling on how to live with the condition.
As with most medical conditions, early diagnosis will give the sufferer the best chance of learning to live with the disease. If you have at least two of the symptoms, ie, hearing loss, tinnitus or vertigo then my advice is to get yourself checked out by a doctor. Menieres disease will have a major effect on your life. Learning how to cope with it and managing the symptoms will make your life so much better.
As always I hope you have enjoyed reading my post. Do you suffer from Menieres Disease or any of the symptoms above? If so please get in touch and share your experience. You can leave a comment below and I will answer it as soon as possible. Why not sign up for my newsletter above or you can contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org