Balance is something we often take for granted. If you close your eyes and stand on one leg, you might feel wobbly and disoriented. Imagine how alarming that vertigo feeling would be if you had both feet on the ground…and your eyes open.
September 15th -21st is Balance Awareness Week in the UK. Balance Awareness Week is a week coordinated by the Meniere’s Society which aims to raise the profile of the issues associated with vestibular (inner ear) disorders.
Whilst you might not be familiar with vestibular diseases, 40% of people over 40 have experienced symptoms of dizziness and/or imbalance.
What do my ears have to do with balance?
The body’s balance organ is called the “Vestibular System“and is situated in the inner ear. It is responsible for maintaining balance, posture and the body’s orientation in space.
The balance system works by coordinating information received by the brain from a combination of the eyes, the balance organ in the inner ear and the body’s internal sense of balance. If you feel dizzy it’s as a result of your brain not being able to coordinate the information it receives.
If the balance organ is faulty the brain relies more heavily on the other two information sources.
What is Meniere’s disease?
Sufferers of Meniere’s disease have Meniere’s Attacks. A Meniere’s Attack feels like the room is spinning, the person may hear a ringing in the ear (tinnitus), hearing loss and a feeling of pressure deep inside the ear. These symptoms occur suddenly, all at once and can last for minutes or even hours. It can take a couple of days for the symptoms to fully wear off and can leave the sufferer feeling very tired. The next attack might occur quickly in succession, or they might be separated by weeks, months or years.
Often, the symptoms may be in one ear but they can spread to both ears. Meniere’s disease is a long term and a progressive condition.
Who gets Meniere’s and why?
Whilst Meniere’s is rare, it is estimated between 1 in 1000 and 1 in 2000 people suffer from the condition(depending on the data source).
The exact cause of Meniere’s disease is unknown but is associated with pressure deep inside the ear. Other factors can influence the risk of Meniere’s including:
• Poor drainage of the ear fluid
• Immune system disorders
• Viral infections i.e. meningitis
• Family history of Meniere’s – 7-10% of sufferers have a family history
• Head Injury
Is there a test for Meniere’s?
The three main symptoms of Meniere’s (vertigo, hearing loss and tinnitus) can occur for many reasons. For example, a build of ear wax can be responsible for these symptoms. So, there is no one specific test that can reliably diagnose Meniere’s disease. Full diagnostic hearing tests, blood tests or an MRI scan can be used to eliminate the causes.
Can Meniere’s be cured?
There is no cure for Meniere’s disease, but medication can help manage the symptoms of vertigo, nausea and vomiting. Tinnitus, hearing loss and balance symptoms will need to be tested and treated separately. If you are suffering from issues with your balance, vertigo, hearing loss or tinnitus then seeking medical assistance as soon as you feel unwell for early treatment will help manage symptoms.