No need to fear: You probably don’t have Meniere’s disease!
Many new patients who come to us for balance or dizziness concerns assume their symptoms are caused by Meniere’s disease, and we can understand why! Dealing with dizziness can be very disorienting and make it hard to live a normal life, and many people jump to the worst possible conclusion to explain their discomfort.
Despite a large number of patients thinking they have it, Meniere’s disease is actually very rare — less than 1% of the population has it — and more often than not, the diagnosis ends up being BPPV or another temporary cause of vertigo, like certain medications or infection.
What is Meniere’s disease, and what causes it?
Researchers and healthcare providers still don’t know a lot about Meniere’s disease, but we do know that it’s a disease of the inner ear that causes feelings of dizziness, tinnitus, and sometimes hearing loss. Meniere’s disease usually only affects one ear, and the symptoms are caused by a buildup of fluid called endolymph in the labyrinth of the ear, which houses the hearing and balance organs of the body.
The definitive cause of Meniere’s disease is still unknown, but researchers have some theories. It’s thought that Meniere’s disease may be caused by genetics, an abnormal immune response, a viral infection, or a physical irregularity within the ear that prevents it from draining fluid properly.
What are the signs of Meniere’s disease?
There’s a reason why many people think they may have Meniere’s disease when, in fact, they have something much more common and treatable, and that’s because the symptoms of Meniere’s disease are very similar to another dizziness disorder called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV for short.
Those with Meniere’s disease experience a combination of uncomfortable and disorienting symptoms that make it a difficult disease to live with. Episodes of vertigo due to Meniere’s disease can be lengthy, and when combined with symptoms of ringing in the ears (tinnitus) or temporary hearing loss, the experience is unpleasant, to say the least.
Diagnosing Meniere’s disease can be tricky with the similarities to BPPV and other, more temporary causes of dizziness, but Meniere’s disease is usually diagnosed when some key differentiating symptoms are present:
- Two or more episodes of vertigo lasting at least 20 minutes each
- Temporary hearing loss
- A feeling of fullness in the ear
A dizziness and hearing care expert will also run a series of other tests, like a hearing test, and ask you a bunch of questions to rule out other explanations for your symptoms before diagnosing Meniere’s disease.
In general, though, the experience of Meniere’s disease is much more severe than disorders like BPPV, and the addition of tinnitus, hearing loss, and the feeling of fullness in the ear makes it much different than BPPV, which generally only presents as feelings of vertigo alone.
If some inconsistent or minor vertigo is the only symptom, there’s a good chance you don’t have Meniere’s disease but instead may have BPPV or some other common culprits behind vertigo, like prescription medications, panic attacks, migraines, or diabetes, to name a few.
How do you treat Meniere’s disease?
If you do end up being diagnosed with Meniere’s disease, there are a few different options to treat the various symptoms that come along with the disease. For example, hearing aids can help manage the hearing loss and tinnitus that comes with Meniere’s disease, and vestibular rehabilitation may help lessen vertigo severity.
For more severe cases of Meniere’s disease, surgical intervention or medication may be recommended by your provider to help manage the symptoms and allow you to lead a more normal life. Meniere’s disease has no cure (yet!), but between modern medicine and technology, the symptoms can be alleviated and managed fairly easily.
How do you treat other dizziness disorders?
Most cases of vertigo we see in our practice are not Meniere’s disease, but any case of vertigo or dizziness is serious and is taken just as seriously by our team. We work closely with our patients to determine the best path to treat the symptoms and any underlying conditions.
Depending on the cause and severity of symptoms, there are some effective options available to treat vertigo. One of the most common is a treatment for BPPV called canalith repositioning, which involves strategic movements of the head to shift dislodged ear crystals causing the BPPV symptoms.
If your vertigo is not caused by an issue with the inner ear, your primary care provider is the best person to determine the underlying cause, which may be a prescription medication or a more serious health condition, like MS or stroke.
Diagnosing Meniere’s disease requires expert evaluation
While Meniere’s disease is rare, dizziness and balance issues are not normal and may indicate an underlying health issue that needs to be treated. If you’re suffering from any of the signs and symptoms from this post, it’s best to see a healthcare provider to diagnose and treat the symptoms.
Colorado Ear Care has the most thorough and complete dizziness and vestibular testing in the state of Colorado, so schedule your appointment today.