The vestibular system controls balance; controls posture; regulates locomotion and other movements; provides conscious awareness of orientation in space; and provides conscious awareness of visual fixation in motion.
Balance can be impaired by disease, altered gravity, aging, and exposure to unusual motion.
When balance is impaired, normal movement is affected, as well as motivation, concentration, and memory.
Source: National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
Ménière's disease is a balance disorder caused by an abnormality found in a section of the inner ear called the labyrinth.
There are an estimated 615,000 people in the U.S. who have Ménière's disease, with 45,500 new cases diagnosed each year.
The labyrinth contains the organs of balance and hearing. It is made up of two parts:
- Bony labyrinth
- Membranous labyrinth
The membranous labyrinth is encased in bone and contains a fluid called endolymph.
When the head moves, the endolymph also moves, which causes nerve receptors in the membranous labyrinth to signal the brain about the body's motion.
Endolymph buildup in the labyrinth can interfere with the normal balance and hearing signals between the inner ear and the brain, resulting in Ménière’s disease.
The following are the most common symptoms of Ménière's disease. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms can occur suddenly, and may happen daily or infrequently.
The most debilitating symptom is vertigo, which is a severe spinning sensation that can cause:
- Severe nausea
Other symptoms may include:
- Tinnitus, a ringing in the ears
- Loss of hearing
- Pressure in the affected ear
- Loss of balance
The symptoms of Ménière's disease may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your health care provider for a diagnosis.
In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, the health care provider may request:
- Hearing test
- Balance test
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. An MRI is done to determine if a tumor is present.
- Electrocochleography. This test measures electrical activity of the inner ear.
Specific treatment for Ménière's disease will be determined by your health care provider based on:
- Your age, overall health, and medical history
- Extent of the disease
- Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
- Expectations for the course of the disease
- Your opinion or preference
Treatment may include:
- Surgery. Several types of surgery are effective for treating the balance problems of Ménière's disease.
- Medication. Medications may be given to control allergies, reduce fluid retention, reduce dizziness, or improve the blood circulation in the inner ear.
- Change in diet. Eliminating caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, and salt may reduce the frequency and intensity of symptoms.
- Behavior therapies. Reducing stress may lessen the severity of the disease symptoms.
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