River Wissey Lovell Fuller

Meniere's Disease

September 2001

Information on this not-so-common disease

In the August 2001 magazine the Editor kindly mentioned the Open Garden for Charity at Ashpond House in June, under the auspices of the National Gardens Scheme. The gate money went to this charity, while the money taken for teas and cakes was donated to a charity called The Meniere's Society.

The Meniere's Society exists as a forum and support organization for people who suffer from Meniere's Disease.

In 1861, Dr Prosper Meniere wrote a classic description of the condition which now bears his name. He realised that what had previously been thought of as apoplexy, was due to a disturbance in the inner ear. He described a typical attack as follows:

"A man, young and robust, suddenly without apparent reason, experienced vertigo, nausea and vomiting. He had a state of inexpressible anguish and prostration. The face was pale and bathed in sweat as if about to faint...Lying on his back he could not open his eyes without his environment becoming a whirlpool. The smallest movements of the head worsened the feeling of vertigo and nausea"

Meniere's Disease (MD) is a disease of the inner ear. It is a long-term disease, which progressively damages both the balance and the hearing organs. The main symptoms of the disease are Vertigo (dizziness, which usually causes nausea and vomiting), tinnitus (ear and head noise), and deafness. Attacks occur with varying frequency. Many sufferers have severe attacks 3 or 4 times a year, while others have more frequent, milder, attacks. This pattern can change during the progress of the disease. Symptoms will vary between sufferers, and many sufferers do not experience all of these symptoms at the same time. The severity of the symptoms can also vary with the progress of the disease.

It affects mainly white people, and both sexes equally. It affects about 0.5% of the population. MD can occur at all ages, including childhood, but most frequently starts between the ages of 20 and 50. 7 to 10% of sufferers have a family history of the disease.

To begin with, MD usually affects one ear, but 15% of sufferers have both ears affected at the start. Up to 50% of sufferers will develop the disease in both ears as it progresses. There is no cure for Meniere's Disease, and the root causes of the disease are unknown. Attacks themselves are generally agreed to result from increased pressure of fluid in the inner ear, but it is not certain what triggers this increase.

Although, as I said, there is no cure, there are ways in which its symptoms can be eased. There are some surgical treatments for vertigo, some of which, I have to say, are pretty extreme. These are not undertaken lightly in view of the possibility of the disease starting in the other ear. Drugs can help some people, although, I have never found substantial relief from this source myself. Changes in lifestyle are also generally reckoned to help.

One of the difficulties in diagnosing and treating the disease is that there can be long periods of time when the sufferer is free of symptoms. These are called periods of remission, and can last months, sometimes years.

Vertigo is, in my experience, the most distressing symptom. I have to remain with my head absolutely still while the attack lasts. Lying down in a cool, dark room is preferable. The slightest head movement normally causes great discomfort, and usually precipitates vomiting. The room appears to spin out of control, so I have to keep my eyes firmly closed. Normality slowly returns as the attack eases, but deafness and tinnitus, of course, remain between attacks.

The attacks are completely unpredictable, and can occur at a moment's notice. They are extremely upsetting and exhausting. I still find it very frightening, even after all these years. Physical and emotional recovery can take some time, often up to two or three days. When attacks are frequent, it makes a normal planned life very difficult, and sufferers can easily become housebound, and experience anxiety and loss of confidence.

Attacks vary in duration. Mine normally last between 3 - 6 hours, but I once had one which lasted just under 18 hours. One tries to live a normal life between attacks, but I always take precautions if I am out of the house, such as keeping a mobile phone switched on and dialled in case I need to call my wife, and I always keep a bucket handy in the car.

I have had Meniere's Disease for 30 years, having had my first attack when I was 21. The pattern and severity of my attacks has varied over the years. I had great problems with dizziness when I was younger, but experienced very little tinnitus. More recently dizziness has been less severe, although still incapacitating, but tinnitus is now becoming more of a problem. On bad days, it not only affects my general hearing, but also causes noticeable sound distortion and discomfort. Hearing ability has been steadily reducing in my affected ear. I now have about 20% hearing left, and am effectively deaf in that ear. My other ear works perfectly.

Meniere's Disease is not common, and, in general, few people know of it or anything about it. It does not have a high public profile, but research into the condition, and developments of techniques to control it, are being carried out. For more information please contact:

The Meniere's Society98 Maybury RoadWokingSurrey GU21 5HX

David Smith

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