Vertigo, an acute form of dizziness where the head appears to be spinning in all directions and balance becomes impossible; patients are left wondering what in the world is happening to them. Upon examination by an ear, nose and throat physician or the family doctor will assure the patient they aren’t dying, only feeling as if they were during episodes. This may or may not be the beginning of the little understood disease, Meniere’s.
Wax in the ear may be interfering with the normal workings of the middle ear. Before an accurate diagnosis is made extensive testing is necessary. Other symptoms are tinnitus—a ringing in the ears or ear and a feeling of fullness in the affected ear. Most often only one ear is affected but this is not always true.
Deafness and Meniere’s disease
Deafness does not suddenly appear after an attack of vertigo whether it’s Meniere’s disease or vertigo from lesser causes, but it gradually diminishes over a period of years. It’s an established fact that this disease is associated with gradual loss of hearing but whether that is true for other bouts of vertigo accompanying other disorders of the ear canal is questionable. In fact, diagnosis is in itself problematic and sometimes both patient and doctor never know for sure. Deafness later on in life usually provides the accurate diagnosis.
Cause of symptoms
Fluid builds up in the labyrinth, the ear canals that are home to the semicircular canals, the cochlea and other hearing paraphernalia. The semicircular canals control balance and the cochlea deals with hearing. Inside the membranous labyrinth are fluid filled sacs that keep people balanced. Another way of visualizing this activity of the middle ear is to think of the balance mechanism as cushioning for the intricate mechanisms directing balance. The sensory cells contained within the fluid filled sacs send messages to the brain concerning balance and movement.
How does this relate to Meniere’s? When the fluid filled sacs are too full normal balance is out of kilter. It’s possible, and this is only a supposition, that the sensory cells are stimulated far beyond their capacity and this overwhelms the action control center of the brain. Whatever the cause, the symptoms are unforgettable and are indeed unwelcomed.
As frightening as vertigo is, meclizine–commercially sold as Antivert—calms the swirling and puts the body in a situation where it can heal and where the doctor can further test for the real cause of the problem. As of this time there is no real cure but usually an episode will last intermittently for a few months and subside. Recurrences are common.
Cognitive therapy where patients understand their illness, learn to control their anxiety over fear of future attacks and learn how to deal with an attack by focusing their eyes directly on an object and keeping the head still does much toward lessening the severity of an attack. To fight and throw the body about is sure to aggravate the situation. Most attacks happen after the body is weakened from allergies, undergoing flu like symptoms or the flu itself. Treatment for these will lessen the possibility of more vertigo.
What is the outlook for someone with Meniere’s disease? “Scientists estimate that six out of 10 people either get better on their own or can control their vertigo with diet, drugs, or devices. However, a small group of people with Meniere’s disease will get relief only by undergoing surgery.” Surgical intervention is a procedure where the fluid sacs are relieved of their pressure.
What about Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo and crystal formation as a cause? Isn’t this possibly related to Meniere’s, especially since actual diagnosis is obscure? This theory is that calcium carbonate crystals form in the ear and thereby interferes with the functioning of the delicate middle ear. Treatments vary but most concern repositioning the ear rocks or debris to move them away from its antagonism to balance.
Whatever the cause of Meniere’s or the other vertigo condition, there are resemblances. And since medical science is not exact and newer discoveries are being made—and disputed—on an ongoing basis, symptoms are about all the professionals have to rely on when diagnosing. And vertigo is at once a symptom of Meniere’s disease and a benign diseased condition on its own. And truthfully, there’s not a whole lot of difference between them. Both usually start at around age fifty or beyond; both usually subside with symptomatic treatment only and both probably do damage to hearing mechanisms rendering them less effective as the patient ages. It’s your choice: Do you have Meniere’s disease or only paroxysmal vertigo?
An accurate diagnosis may cost lots of money and after knowing are you better or worse off? Most likely damage to the middle ear from whatever source will cause a gradual breakdown in the ability to hear as time goes on. It’s part of the aging process. If you can afford it, buy a hearing aid, if you cannot, turn your television up louder and ask your friends and family to speak louder. In the long haul, it won’t matter what label was applied to your condition as long as it wasn’t too expensive or took up too much of your time.