Balance

National Audiology Awareness Month

How is your hearing? That’s the question the American Academy of Audiology (AAA) wants you to focus on this month.

The AAA established October as National Audiology Awareness Month to encourage people to remember how important your hearing is to your daily life, along with encouraging hearing screenings and hearing protection.

The statistics on hearing loss are shocking, with 36 million Americans suffering from some degree of hearing loss. Even more staggering is the average amount of time a person with hearing loss waits to seek treatment after noticing a problem - between seven to 10 years. In that time, hearing can not only worsen significantly, but can cause a variety of health and psychological problems, such as depression, social isolation and balance disorders.

Take this month to focus on your hearing. Schedule an appointment with an audiologist to get a hearing screening. If you notice signs of hearing loss in someone close to you, our most recent blog post focused on how to start that conversation.

Meniere's Disease

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What is Meniere's Disease?

Named after French physician Prosper Meniere after he experienced this condition in the 1800s, Ménière’s Disease is a disorder of the inner ear that causes severe dizziness (vertigo), ringing in the ears (tinnitus), hearing loss, and a feeling of fullness or pressure in the ear. 

Meniere's Disease is caused by the buildup of fluid in the compartments of the inner ear, called the labyrinth. The labyrinth contains the organs of balance (the semicircular canals and otolithic organs) and hearing (the cochlea). When it fills with fluid, it interferes with the normal balance and hearing signals between the inner ear and brain. This interference causes vertigo, tinnitus, and other symptoms. 

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A Meniere's episode generally involves severe vertigo, imbalance, nausea, and vomiting, and may come on suddenly or after a short period of tinnitus, hearing fluctuations, or "fullness" in the ear. A sudden fall without warning, called "drop attacks," may also occur if patients feel they are tilted or off balance (although they are standing straight). These episodes of vertigo can last anywhere from 2-4 hours and are usually followed by extreme fatigue. There may be no other symptoms between these attacks, which can be years apart, although hearing loss tends to get progressively worse with time. 

Ménière’s disease can develop at any age, but it is more likely to happen to adults between 40 and 60 years of age.

Causes of Meniere's Disease

Although still relatively unknown, Meniere's Disease is often associated with autoimmune disease, head injuries, allergies, viral infection, and genetics. 

Meniere’s Disease and Hearing Loss

Hearing loss associated with Meniere’s disease usually affects low frequencies and is present in one ear. Hearing tends to decline during an attack and improve after an attack. In the initial stages of the disease, hearing may be normal between attacks. As the disease progresses, however, hearing can permanently decrease in the low frequencies and eventually extend to all frequencies. Hearing loss associated with Meniere’s disease is a “sensorineural” hearing loss, meaning that it is the nerve endings that are affected. In most cases, a sensorineural hearing loss entails permanent loss; a fluctuating sensorineural hearing loss is unusual and a strong indicator of Meniere’s disease. 

Diagnosing Meniere's Disease

Diagnosing Meniere's Disease can be difficult. Often, other conditions need to be considered and ruled out, as there are many conditions that can cause symptoms of vertigo, tinnitus, and hearing loss. Diagnosing Meniere's involves looking closely at the symptoms and conducting a hearing test to document hearing loss after an attack. It may also include an ENG test to measure eye movement, blood tests, or a MRI. 

Treatment of Meniere’s Disease

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Meniere’s disease, nor is there any one treatment that covers all cases. Treatments may include reducing salt, caffeine, processed foods, alcohol and nicotine in your diet; medications, such as diuretics, vestibular suppressants, steroids, and immune system suppressants; and, surgery for extreme cases. If permanent hearing loss is detected, it can be treated with hearing aid technologies.

It is important to note that Meniere's Disease should not be self-diagnosed or self-treated. If you are experiencing symptoms similar to Meniere's, please seek the care of a medical professional, such as your primary physician, audiologist, or ENT specialist. 

Wednesday Health Watch: Hearing Loss and Balance

 Photo by Huffington Post

Photo by Huffington Post

A recent study at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that people with even a mild hearing loss (< 25 dB) are 3 times more likely to have a history of falling. With every additional 10dB of hearing loss (approximately the sound of someone breathing), you increase your chance of falling by 1.4 times. A further 20dB hearing loss over the ‘mild’ classification would push up the risk by threefold again.

Balance is controlled through signals to the brain from the eyes, the inner ear, and the sensory systems of the body (skin, muscles and joints). Our balance system is also known as the vestibular system. 

A balance disorder may result in dizziness, which is a broad term that can encompass vertigo, lightheadedness and disequilibrium. If you are stationary (standing, sitting, or lying down) vertigo can make you feel as though you are moving, spinning, or floating. Lightheadedness is often associated with presyncope, or feeling as though you may pass out. With disequilibrium, you may feel as though you may tip over. Experts believe that more than 4 out of 10 Americans will experience an episode of dizziness significant enough to send them to a doctor at some point in their lives. 

Diagnosing the underlying condition causing the balance disorder can be difficult. A loss of balance could be due to many factors: low blood pressure, certain medications, a head injury, ear infection, or any other problems that affect the skeletal, visual or auditory systems. However, if you're experiencing a balance disorder AND are having trouble hearing, contact an audiologist or Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT) specialist right away. 

At Hearing Health Associates, we can review your symptoms and help guide you toward an appropriate diagnosis and treatment. You can read more about balance, dizziness, and hearing loss here on our website.