Ménière's Disease: Symptoms and Treatment
Ménière's and Me
I didn’t realize it at the time, but in February 2006 my life began to change. I had just come out of the shower, and for the first time ever in my life, I was aware of a strange noise in my left ear. Although it was extremely annoying, I was not unduly worried. I dismissed the irritant as having got some water in my ear from showering.
When I returned to work on Monday morning, the problem had not abated. I discussed it with several colleagues, most of whom also concluded that I had got water in my ear. One even suggested I try standing on my head to help the water drain out!
Little did I know that this was only the start of my journey and that my symptoms would get worse, before they started to get better.
What Is Ménière's Disease?
Ménière's disease is an inner ear disorder that causes vertigo, accompanied by nausea, vomiting, tinnitus and sometimes hearing loss. It normally only affects one ear. In my case, it is my left side, that is the problem ear.
The onset of an attack can be sudden and without warning. It can reach peak intensity within a matter of minutes. An attack may last for hours or even several days, and is characterized by a sensation of “fullness” in the affected ear.
Unsteadiness, a general feeling of malaise and extreme fatigue often persists for some considerable time after an attack.
There is no known medical cure for Ménière's disease.
What Causes Ménière’s Disease?
The exact cause of Ménière’s disease is not really known, although progress is being made into the condition.
Several elements are believed to be contributory factors in the development of the disease, such as:
- Increased fluid pressure in the inner ear
- Allergic factors damaging the inner ear
- Trauma to the ear
- As yet, other unknown factors
The relationship between these factors and the progression of the disease remains unclear.
Ménière's Disease Symptoms
Strange Ringing in the Ear (Tinnitus)
If you have never experienced tinnitus before, then it may take you a while to assign the correct medical term to the strange ringing or whistling noises that you are hearing. Tinnitus is the medical term given to noises that are heard in the ear, but which have no external noise source.
While termed ringing in the ear, the sound varies among sufferers. Tinnitus may sound like buzzing, whistling, ringing, humming, roaring, swooshing, hissing, clicking or even pulsating. The American Tinnitus Association claims that nearly 50 million Americans suffer from the condition.
The sounds are most irritating and prominent during the evening and nighttime, when everything is much quieter. This can often make sleeping problematic.
Fullness in the Ear
This is a difficult condition to explain, but if you have experienced it, then you will know exactly what I mean. I can only describe the sensation as being a fullness or swelling of the ear. In my case, the affected ear also becomes hot to the touch. If you are uncertain about this, try touching the unaffected ear for comparison.
This symptom is extremely important and one that I have come to associate as being an indicator of an imminent attack. This allows me to take preventative steps to minimize the effects on my day-to-day life. I typically take Stemetil (prochlorperazine) tablets to alleviate nausea and vomiting.
Difficulty With Balance (Vertigo)
At the time, I also became more aware of difficulties with my balance. This had started the year prior, but I had not connected the two problems as being related. On several occasions, I would be walking along a corridor at work and suddenly become conscious of the fact that I was swaying from one side to the other. i was literally bouncing off the walls.
Dizziness and Nausea
What followed was a spate of incidents where I began to suddenly feel unwell at work. I felt extremely dizzy and sick. My head spun out of control. Totally out of sorts, I had to get home to bed, a commute of some 30 minutes. A few miles before reaching home, I had to pull the car over to the side of the road. I was going to be sick. Once I got home, lying in bed, it was difficult to turn over. Any movement made the whole room spin. I was also sweating profusely.
Surely, I couldn’t be going through the menopause so early in life?
I needed a professional medical opinion.
Arriving at the hospital, I was immediately referred to an Ear, Nose & Throat specialist and had to undergo an MRI scan to begin eliminating any other, more serious causes for my symptoms. Several different hearing tests were also undertaken, as well as physical examinations.
Following these tests, my diagnosis of Ménière's disease was confirmed in October 2006. My specialist advised me that there was no known cure and that I would have to learn to manage the symptoms as best as I could. Although surgery was available, it was not something he would consider for a person of my age, as the risks of permanent deafness were considerable.
The relief at knowing what was wrong with me was quickly tempered by the realization that there was no cure. There was no magic pill that would make this condition go away and leave me feeling better.
Have You Ever Experienced an Inner Ear Disorder Such as Labyrinthitis or Ménière's Disease?
What It's Like to Live With Ménière's Disease
Nothing Ever Goes According to Plan
Aside from the fairly obvious distressing physical effects, there are also hidden drawbacks this disease. I find it very difficult to plan my life as I wish. I am constantly cancelling and rearranging appointments due to feeling unwell. There is an overwhelming sense of exhaustion and fatigue that I experience following an attack. I am unable to concentrate, I become forgetful and I get confused.
My family and friends are becoming increasingly irritated when I am unable to attend social events and have to cancel at the last minute. Their patience is wearing a little thin. That is one of the biggest problems I've faced with this disease. To them, I don’t look ill. I’m sure some of them may even believe that I am a hypochondriac. Meanwhile, I am beginning to feel increasingly lonely and isolated.
Hearing Is Very Difficult
My tinnitus is more pronounced late at night. Then there is the hearing loss, something my teenage daughters find particularly frustrating. No, I am not deaf, but I have trouble deciphering sounds when people speak from behind me. I also find it difficult to hear properly when there is a lot of background noise. I now find myself trying to lip-read.
I'm Always Off Balance
I also find my balance is quite bad, especially first thing in the morning. I have to be careful going downstairs. Sometimes, I am unable to sleep. Mundane tasks such as changing a light bulb have now become mammoth. I can no longer ride a bicycle.
I Had to Change My Job
I am now my own boss. I would never be able to hold down a 9-to-5 job as things currently stand. That, at least, is one of the benefits of earning a living online. The world wide web is open 24/7.
Medications I Take
To be perfectly honest, I was a little blasé following my diagnosis. I was just relieved that I could attribute a name to my illness and that I could get on with the rest of my life...how wrong I was!
Even though I was taking Betahistine—a commonly prescribed drug for Ménière's diesease three times daily, the attacks continued with a vengeance. The most troublesome bit about my attacks was that they occurred without warning and the effects were immediate. I was also prescribed further medication, Cinnarizine, to mitigate the effects of vertigo.
Coping With Ménière's Disease
I hope this sheds a little light into my life with Ménière's. Having spoken with other sufferers, I firmly believe that everyone's situation is unique, and it is vital that we develop our own coping strategies.
What Helps Me Sleep at Night
As a tinnitus sufferer, trying to sleep can be extremely frustrating. While there are many devices specifically designed to drown out tinnitus sounds, for me, the most effective way to get a good night's sleep is to open the window and to switch on a . tabletop fan
The fan I use is 12 inches in diameter and is located about six feet from my bed.This helps drown out any noises in my ear and has become something of a comfort blanket for me. This means that I now struggle to sleep if the fan is not switched on. When I go away on holiday, I always have to have the air conditioning unit on, in lieu of the fan.
If you plan to use a fan, you need to consider the size of your bedroom and where you will be positioning the device. While this may appear trivial, it can make the difference between success and failure. Over the years, I have experienced a nine inch diameter fan that was ineffective and a turbocharged fan that was simply too powerful.
While I know that there are devices that play soothing music or white noise, I would never recommend falling asleep wearing earplugs, especially if they are connected to a power supply.
I Learned to Identify an Attack Early and Take Preventative Steps
With regards to my vertigo, I am able to identify the signs and symptoms fairly quickly. This allows me to take steps to prevent it from affecting me too severely.
- American Tinnitus Association. Understanding the Facts. Retrieved November 24, 2019.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2012 C L Grant