One of the most common inner ear conditions that causes vertigo and dizziness occurs when the body’s ability to regulate the production of fluid in the inner ear canals becomes impaired, leading to excess fluid accumulation. Known as Meniere’s disease, episodes of this condition involve a characteristic set of symptoms including a sensation of fullness or pain in the ear, progressive loss of hearing that can result in permanent deafness, tinnitus – ringing or buzzing sounds, and known as vertigo – a sensation of spinning.
A Medical Mystery
The cause of Meniere’s disease remains a mystery, though some scientists theorize that it might be due to blood vessel constriction in a similar manner to that which occurs in migraines2. The first onset of Meniere’s disease usually occurs between the ages of 40 and 60 years #2 and it occurs more frequently in people with allergies or autoimmune diseases #1.
Meniere’s disease also runs in families, which implies that there is a genetic component that makes some people more susceptible to developing the condition.
Attacks of Meniere’s disease can be brought on by eating too much salt, which causes fluid retention, mental/emotional stress, smoking, and consumption of alcohol or caffeine1. Attacks can occur as single episodes separated by weeks or months, or they can occur clustered together over a few days. Episodes of vertigo in Meniere’s disease occur suddenly and without warning. These potentially hazardous events are known as “drop attacks”. They typically last between 20 minutes to as long as 4 hours #1.
Muli-Modal Medical Approach
A wide array of treatments have been used to treat the vertigo of Meniere’s disease. Certain prescription anti-seizure and anti-histamine medicines as well as drugs that reduce secretions in the mouth and throat may help decrease the severity and length of dizziness episodes2. Diuretic drugs and salt restriction can reduce excess fluids in the inner ear. Injections of the antibiotic gentamicin have also been used to control vertigo, though this approach increases risk for hearing loss because the drug directly damages delicate hearing receptors1. There is even a medical device that fits into the outer ear like a hearing aid and works by creating pulses of air pressure that counteract the fluid pressure within the inner ear, with benefits lasting up to 18 months after treatment #3.
Natural Therapy Options
For those seeking a nutritional or herbal approach to managing Meniere’s disease there are several options. Deficiencies of certain vitamins, particularly B12, that are important for nerve function, may contribute to vertigo symptoms #4. In such instances supplementing may help.
The minerals magnesium and zinc are known to protect the sensory cells of hearing, known as cochlear hair cells, from damage #5. The herbs ginkgo biloba and periwinkle, which are known to improve microcirculation in the brain #6,#8 have also been used with success in the management of vertigo #7,#9.
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