Meniere’s disease – vertigo, tinnitus, hearing loss…
Meniere’s disease impacts an estimated one in 500 Australians. A recent client, with a particularly severe case, was unlucky to be one of them.
Meniere’s disease is a disorder that affects the inner ear, causing episodes of vertigo, tinnitus, hearing loss, and a feeling of fullness or pressure deep in the ear.
People with Meniere’s disease usually experience sudden attacks, involving some or all of these symptoms. Attacks typically last around two to three hours – although, for some, it can take a day or two for the symptoms to subside. Some people may experience several attacks each week, while others may have weeks, months or even years between attacks.
Meniere’s disease can occur at any age. It usually starts between the ages of 20 and 60, and is thought to impact slightly more women than men.
The exact cause of Meniere’s disease is not clearly known. It is believed to be caused by a problem with fluid (endolymph) in the inner ear. It is thought that if pressure of the endolymph fluid changes (eg. too much fluid) it can result in symptoms such as vertigo and tinnitus. However, this theory is yet to be proven.
Symptoms of Meniere’s disease
The symptoms of Meniere’s disease vary from person to person.
Vertigo is one of the most noticeable and common symptoms experienced. This gives the sensation that you, or the environment around you, is suddenly moving or spinning. This may result in problems with balance, making standing or walking difficult. For some, this vertigo can also cause nausea and vomiting. In the case of a severe attack, some may also experience sweating, diarrhoea and rapid/irregular heartbeats.
Tinnitus is also common, giving the feeling of a ringing, buzzing, whistling or hissing sound inside your ear. This is usually more noticeable when tired or when it’s quiet
Hearing loss may occur, with particular difficulty hearing deep or low sounds. It’s often more noticeable in early stages of the disease. Eventually, most people have some permanent hearing loss.
People with Meniere’s disease also often feel a sense of pressure deep inside the affected ears or on the side of their heads.
In most cases symptoms usually only affect one ear, however both ears can be affected over time.
The stages of Meniere’s Disease
Meniere’s disease often progresses through different stages, divided into early, middle and late stages. Progression through stages varies between individuals, with some not experiencing all stages, and severity of symptoms varying.
In general, more attacks are experienced during the first few years. As the attacks decrease in frequency with time, the hearing loss becomes progressively worse.
In the early stages, sudden and unpredictable attacks of vertigo are experienced. These are often accompanied by dizziness, nausea and vomiting. Some hearing loss and tinnitus is noticed during the attack, and the ear may feel blocked and uncomfortable. Attacks usually last for two to three hours, but could last as short as 20 minutes or as long as 24 hours. Hearing and the full sensation in your ear usually returns to normal between attacks.
During the middle stage of Meniere’s disease, continuing attacks of vertigo are experienced, with the attacks becoming less severe for some people. However, tinnitus and hearing loss often become worse. Some may experience periods of remission, which can last up to several months. Some people may still have symptoms of tinnitus, sensitivity to sound or loss of balance between attacks of vertigo.
Episodes of vertigo are far less frequent duging later stages, and may stop altogether. However, the tinnitus and hearing loss often become worse and many are left with permanent balance and hearing problems.
How is Meniere’s disease typically treated ?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Meniere’s disease. A number of treatments can help reduce the severity and frequency of vertigo episodes, but there are no treatments for the hearing loss that occurs with Meniere’s disease.
Medication may help treat the symptoms of vertigo, nausea and vomiting. Motion sickness medications or anti-nausea medications may help lessen the severity of vertigo attacks.
Salt is believed to affect hearing and balance via fluid retention. Sufferers are recommended to reduce salt intake, and recommended to spread salt intake throughout the day.
Managing stress may lessen the severity of symptoms, and help many to cope with the disease.
Hearing aids may help those who experience permanent hearing loss in the middle or end stages.
Vestibular rehabilitation (VRT) exercises may help improve balance by teaching how to cope with the disorientating signals coming from the inner ear. Vestibular therapy is usually helpful in the middle or late stages of Meniere’s disease, after the severe attacks of vertigo have stopped, but when balance problems may remain.
In severe cases, if all other treatments have failed, surgery may be used to control the attacks of vertigo.
How Bowen Therapy can help Meniere’s disease
Recently a client came to see me suffering from Meniere’s disease. He had been struggling with it for 14 years, the initial episode impacting quickly and without warning.
For him, the impact was near debilitating. Significant episodes of vertigo impacted him at least weekly, with short milder episodes occurring multiple times through the day. An episode can be brought on by something as small as looking down. His life had been severely impacted, with difficulties playing with his kids or doing simple daily tasks.
Accompanying his vertigo was clear hearing fluctuations and hearing loss. He used hearing aids in both ears, unable to hear much without them. These hearing aids required regular adjustment, the result of sudden deafness in one ear or the other. Talking on the phone was particularly difficult, with sudden hearing losses experienced mid-conversation.
Despite leading a very healthy lifestyle, his symptoms had not been improving. He had reduced salt consumption, stopped alcohol and caffeine, took regular exercise through daily walks, and tried to manage his stress (as stressful periods worsened his symptoms). He was taking all the recommended actions, but seeing no improvement.
After his first Bowen treatment, the only vertigo episode he had in the following week was a mild one. In the month following his second treatment, he experienced only one mild vertigo attack and no episodes of hearing loss.
He was all smiles in that third appointment, telling me how much Bowen Therapy had helped him !
Most information sourced from Whirled Foundation – a great resource for Meniere’s disease sufferers.