Figure. DR. TIMOTHY E. HULLAR responds:
Q What treatments are available for Meniere's disease?
A Meniere's disease, which typically begins in one's 20s, consists of sudden attacks of hearing loss, tinnitus (roaring or ringing in the ears), and fullness in one ear accompanied by vertigo (severe dizziness). (See illustration; the blue areas are filled with too much fluid.)
Sometimes, symptoms affect both ears and severe deafness may eventually develop. Attacks of vertigo may last for hours and usually are the most debilitating of the syndrome's effects. Its cause is unknown, although sometimes it runs in families. Patients may notice that eating a large amount of salty food or suffering from stress or lack of sleep can trigger an attack.
Symptoms can often be controlled well by a low-salt diet. This has the added benefit of encouraging patients to eat healthier, fresher foods and avoid pre-packaged items, which are often highly salted. In more serious cases, a diuretic pill can decrease the number and severity of attacks. Another well-accepted treatment includes injection of drugs through the eardrum into the middle ear space. In serious cases, surgical intervention can prevent dizziness, but sometimes hearing must be sacrificed. Before receiving treatment of any kind, it is important to confirm that the diagnosis is correct. Some other conditions, including a variant of migraines, can cause similar symptoms but are treated very differently.