Ménière’s Disease – Science, Symptoms & Diagnosis
By Sarah Kwarkies, Hearing Instrument Specialist, Reg. AHIP
Ménière’s disease is a disorder of the inner ear that causes severe dizziness (vertigo), ringing in the ears (tinnitus), hearing loss, and a feeling of fullness or congestion in the ear. Ménière’s disease usually affects only one ear.
The symptoms of Ménière’s disease are caused by the build-up of fluid in the compartments of the inner ear, called the labyrinth. The labyrinth contains the organs of balance (the semicircular canals and otolithic organs) and of hearing (the cochlea). It has two sections: the bony labyrinth and the membranous labyrinth. The membranous labyrinth is filled with a fluid called endolymph that, in the balance organs, stimulates receptors as the body moves. The receptors then send signals to the brain about the body’s position and movement. In the cochlea, fluid is compressed in response to sound vibrations, which stimulates sensory cells that send signals to the brain.
Many theories exist about what happens to cause Ménière’s disease, but no definite answers are available. Some researchers think that Ménière’s disease is the result of constrictions in blood vessels similar to those that cause migraine headaches. Others think Ménière’s disease could be a consequence of viral infections, allergies, or autoimmune reactions. Because Ménière’s disease appears to run in families, it could also be the result of genetic variations that cause abnormalities in the volume or regulation of endolymph fluid.
So how does a doctor diagnose Ménière’s disease?
Ménière’s disease is most often diagnosed and treated by an otolaryngologist (commonly called an Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor, or ENT for short). However, there is no definitive test or single symptom that a doctor can use to make the diagnosis. Diagnosis is based upon your medical history and the presence of:
- Two or more episodes of vertigo lasting at least 20 minutes each
- Temporary hearing loss
- A feeling of fullness in the ear
Some doctors will perform a hearing test to establish the extent of hearing loss caused by Ménière’s disease. To rule out other diseases, a doctor also might request Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or Computed Tomography (CT) scans of the brain.
Ménière’s disease does not have a cure yet, but your doctor might recommend some other treatments to help you cope with the condition.
Sarah Kwarkies see patients at our Hearing Solutions clinic at Lawrence Avenue West and Dufferin Street.