What is Meniereís Disease?
Meniere’s disease is a disorder of the inner ear, which causes progressive deafness in the long term. It is characterised by recurrent attacks of ver tigo (severe unsteadiness with the sensation that the surroundings and/or the body are rotating), with deafness for middle and low tones, and tinnitus (ringing, buzzing or hissing in the ear). Such attacks may even cause the sufferer to fall and vomit. Attacks may last for several hours or for as long as a day. This uncommon disorder can occur at any age, but usually starts between 40 and 60 years of age. In most cases only one ear is affected, but in a minority of cases the second ear becomes affected later
- A feeling that everything is rotating (vertigo)
- Ringing or hissing sounds in the ear (tinnitus)
- Deafness, more severe before and during an attack
- Sound distortion
- Intolerance to loud noises
- Progressive loss of hearing
- Falling over
- Pallor of the face
- Sideways jerking of the eyes (nystagmus)
What are the causes of Meniereís Disease?
The symptoms of Meniere’s disease are caused by the rise of pressure of the fluid in the inner ear. The inner ear contains a structure known as the labyrinth. This is a hollow organ lined with membranes consisting of the cochlea (spinal part of the inner ear), the vestibule (cavity within the labyrinth) and semicircular canals (which are concerned with balance). All three substructures are interconnected and are filled with a fluid, which is known as the endolymph. For reasons that have yet to be fully explained, the pressure of the fluid in the labyrinth sometimes rises to abnormally high levels. As a result, both the hearing and balancing mechanisms are affected, resulting in Meniere’s disease. At first the effects are temporary, but as the attacks continue to occur and the period of raised pressure extends, permanent damage is done to the inner ear functions. The underlying cause appears to involve a combination of factors. Although Meniere’s disease sometimes runs in families, it is thought that only 8% of cases may result from hereditary predisposition. Recent research has shown that these may involve a certain tissue type in the inner ear, which is susceptible to specific viruses.