Meniere’s Disease: Facing the Fear of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss of fluctuating nature is one of the common symptoms of Meniere’s Disease, a chronic condition affecting the inner ear of the individual. Characterised by recurrent vertigo attacks and tinnitus, those afflicted by the condition often experience high levels of stress anxiety. With periods of remission occurring between episodes, you can never be quite sure if the next attack is just around the corner. But is that truly the case? Or is there a way to put you back into the driver seat of your life?
Today’s article focuses on Meniere’s Disease, its symptoms and management strategies, tips on living with a long-term condition that affects the hearing and how to recognise the early warning symptoms of an attack and respond accordingly.
What is Meniere’s Disease?
The overabundance of a fluid called endolymph, fills the inner ear, causing symptoms such as hearing loss and tinnitus.
The causes of Meniere’s Disease remain largely unknown
There are several theories behind why the build-up of endolymph occurs, including circulation issues to the inner ear, viral infections, autoimmune reaction and genetic compositions. One theory assumes that the increase in pressure caused by an overabundant endolymph fluid results in potassium travelling to parts of the inner ear where it does not belong.
Meniere’s Disease – The Symptoms and Warning Signs
Some of the common symptoms of Meniere’s Disease include hearing loss, or fluctuating hearing loss, recurrent vertigo attacks described as a spinning sensation alongside dizziness, a feeling of aural fullness usually in one ear, and tinnitus, usually in one ear, described as a roaring sound.
These are the primary symptoms of Meniere’s Disease. However, they often differ from individual to individual. It is common to also experience other symptoms including fear, anxiety, cold sweats, heart palpitations, nausea and vomiting as a result.
It is common to sense that an attack is about to take place
When this sensation arises, you need to pay close attention: This feeling can act as a warning sign to ensure you take appropriate measures before a vertigo attack. Make sure you are in a safe and comfortable place and manage the symptoms before they begin. That may include certain prescription medications that soften the symptoms of the attack.
Some of these warning symptoms or feelings can include but are not limited to:
- Experiencing a headache or migraine
- A general sense of unease
- A build-up of pressure in the ears
- A disturbance to the ear balance
- The increase in the severity of tinnitus
- A reduction in hearing
- Increased sensitivity to sounds
To better manage and be in control of Meniere’s Disease, it is wise to track and record these warning signs, symptoms and any possible triggers before attacks take place.
Meniere’s Disease and Hearing Loss
Hearing loss of fluctuating nature is one of the common symptoms of Meniere’s Disease. In most cases, it attacks one ear at a time, and low-pitch sounds are the most affected. Depending on the stage of Meniere’s Disease, the severity of hearing loss can defer from mild to profound.
How Does the Hearing Work?
To better understand how Meniere’s can cause hearing loss, it is important to first get to know the hearing system and how normal hearing works. There are three main parts of the ear – the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. Sound waves travel through the outer ear and elicit vibrations of the eardrum. The eardrum is connected to three tiny bones in the middle ear.
Moving the eardrum in turn causes movements in those tiny bones that are passed on to the liquids in the inner ear and causes it to move as well. This movement is detected by the auditory nerve which carries the information to the brain. In the brain, the information is processed and recognised as sound.
Why does an increase in fluid in the inner ear cause hearing loss?
The inner ear contains a series of canals. When those are filled with fluid, this can cause a sensation of vertigo, but also intercept ‘messages’ passed along from the hearing nerve to the brain. Whilst temporary in the early stages, over time, the fluid build-up can cause irreversible damage to the nerves in the inner ear and lead to permanent hearing loss.
Meniere’s Disease: Management and Treatment Strategies
Meniere’s Disease is experienced differently by each individual. This means each case of Meniere’s Disease may require a different approach. Early management of hearing loss is extremely important. The treatment options vary depending on the severity and type of hearing loss and can include the use of hearing aids, cochlear implants, CROS (contralateral routing of signals) or BiCROS.
In Meniere’s Disease, the nature of hearing loss can be unpredictable. It is reasonable to experience some amount of fear and anxiety surrounding hearing loss. The most empowering way of coping with the unpredictability of the condition is to understand the disease. The first step: Communicating with your hearing health professional and medical practitioner, as well as discussing your situation with family and friends.
It is important, regardless of the treatment option, to monitor the hearing thresholds of individuals with Meniere’s Disease to track the potentially fluctuating nature of the hearing loss. This requires undergoing a comprehensive audiological assessment with an accredited audiologist to ensure the type and severity of the hearing loss are properly determined.
Strategies to help you cope with hearing loss
- Don’t be shy to tell people you have a hearing loss.
- Encourage your communication partner to face you when they speak and to speak slower and louder.
- Advise people to get your attention first and look at you when speaking to you.
- Don’t hesitate to ask questions if you missed part of the conversation.
- Ask people to paraphrase the information.
Management Strategies for Tinnitus in Meniere’s Disease
Tinnitus, often described as a roaring sound in one ear or both ears, is also a common symptom of Meniere’s Disease. The nature of the sound varies amongst individuals and some may describe it as a ringing, buzzing or droning sound. Tinnitus can accompany you throughout the day, or occur momentarily before or during an attack.
Tinnitus, alongside hearing loss, can generate fear and anxiety, especially in those experiencing it for the first time. You might know little about tinnitus before your first experience with it. Understanding the mechanisms surrounding tinnitus can help you find ways to manage and cope with it better.
Often, a significant emotional burden is involved in Meniere’s Disease. This relates to the neurophysiological model of tinnitus in which an emotional attachment to the sound is formed. Appropriate tinnitus management is therefore vital for individuals with Meniere’s Disease.
Wrapping it up
In summary, Meniere’s Disease is a condition with many unknowns. Individuals with the condition may be experiencing a diverse range of symptoms that can vary a great deal between those affected by the condition.
It is common to experience an emotional reaction to Meniere’s disease, including the constant fear of another attack, hearing loss and tinnitus. This is what makes proper communication between those with Meniere’s Disease and their family, friends and health care professionals, so vital to the management of Meniere’s Disease.
Please reach out to your local accredited audiologist to have an open discussion about your experience with Meniere’s Disease. Working with your hearing care professional to navigate the condition, will ensure you’ll have access to the best management strategies and tools for you.
Don’t hesitate to contact your local Attune Hearing clinic at 1300 736 702 or book your appointment online.