Meniere's disease is a disorder of the inner ear that causes spontaneous episodes of vertigo along with fluctuating hearing loss, ringing in the ear (tinnitus), and sometimes a feeling of pressure or fullness in the ear. In most cases, Meniere's disease will affect only one ear.
The main symptoms of Meniere's disease are recurring episodes of vertigo that last anywhere from 20 minutes up to 24 hours, tinnitus (typically low-pitched with Meniere’s disease), a feeling of pressure of fullness in the ear, and hearing loss. Hearing loss may come and go in early stages of the disease but as the disease progresses there typically will be some permanent hearing loss. Symptoms will usually come on in bouts, lasting for two to three hours, and then subside, and often a series of episodes will occur followed by periods of remission.
The cause of Meniere's disease isn't well understood but is believed to be closely tied to the fluid in the inner ear. Our inner ear contains a fluid that helps us to maintain our balance and equilibrium. With Meniere’s disease there are changes to the volume and the composition of this inner ear fluid, causing problems with the healthy functioning of our ear and affecting our hearing and our balance. These changes to the ear fluid may be caused by improper fluid drainage (either because of a blockage or because of an anatomic abnormality), abnormal immune response, allergies, viral infection, genetic predisposition, or head trauma.
Meniere's disease is considered a chronic condition, and conventional treatment focuses on management: relieving symptoms and minimizing the long term impacts of the disease. Treatment includes motion sickness or anti-nausea medications for the vertigo, diuretic medications to reduce the amount of fluid in the inner ear, medication injections to the inner ear to relieve vertigo, hearing aids, and rehabilitative exercises to help improve balance and coordination. Surgery may be considered in severe cases.
In Chinese medicine, Meniere’s disease is classified as a type of dizziness. There are important lifestyle factors that contribute to its development. Emotional strain, which can be caused by too much stress or by anger, frustration, or resentment, can lead to health imbalances that over time can lead to chronic conditions such as Meniere’s disease. Overwork or pushing ourselves too hard without adequate rest over years can also deplete the body and lead to health issues. Diet is another important factor, as unhealthy eating particularly the excessive consumption of greasy foods or dairy products or poor or irregular eating habits can lead to problems down the road. All of these factors over time contribute to the development of health problems, which is why Meniere’s disease typically develops in middle age.
Acupuncture is a worthwhile option to consider for those suffering from Meniere’s disease. Because Western medicine has difficulty treating this condition, often people are looking for effective options to help manage the disease. The good news is that acupuncture can help to relieve the symptoms of Meniere’s disease and may also help to improve or resolve the condition. Treatment can help to relieve the dizziness and vertigo, tinnitus, feeling of fullness or pressure in the head, and to reduce the frequency of bouts of symptoms.
Over time and with continued treatments, acupuncture may also help to resolve the condition. The combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can be of particular benefit to the condition as herbal formulas can help to augment the results of acupuncture. Due to the chronic nature of this condition, Meniere’s may be slow to treat and may take time to achieve lasting results. Acupuncture demonstrates that there is hope for difficult, chronic conditions such as Meniere’s disease.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, downtown Kelowna, BC. He can be reached at www.okanaganacupuncture.com.