Researchers may have figured out what causes Meniere's disease and how to combat it.
Researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine believe that a cure may be at hand for the ailment. Per Carol Foster, MD, from the department of otolaryngology and Robert Breeze, MD, a neurosurgeon, a strong link between Meniere's disease and conditions that result in temporary low blood flow to the brain like migraines exist.
For the uninitiated, Meniere's disease is a rare disorder which affects the inner ear. The disorder can cause tinnitus, vertigo, hearing loss and a feeling of pressure inside the ear.
Apparently, Meniere's affects nearly 3 to 5 million people in the U.S. The attacks can last for hours and may ultimately cause permanent deafness in the ear that is affected. However, till now the cause of the attacks is not known and no theory can completely explain the signs and symptoms of the ailment.
According to Foster, the attacks may be caused by either the malformation of the inner ear (endolymphatic hydrops) and risk factors for vascular disease in the brain like sleep apnea and migraine.
"If our hypothesis is confirmed, treatment of vascular risk factors may allow control of symptoms and result in a decreased need for surgeries that destroy the balance function in order to control the spell" said Foster. "If attacks are controlled, the previously inevitable progression to severe hearing loss may be preventable in some cases."
Per the researchers, the fluid build up in the inner ear associated with Meniere attacks is indicative of the presence of a pressure-regulation problem, which causes a decreased flow of blood in the ear.
When this condition combines with vascular diseases that also decrease the blood flow to the brain and ear, an action similar to mini strokes or transient ischemic attacks in the brain can occur in the sensory tissues of the inner ear.
In the case of youngsters who have hydrops sans vascular disorders, no attacks take place as the blood continues to flow despite the fluctuations. However, those who suffer from vascular diseases, in their case the fluctuations are enough to "rob the ear of blood flow and the nutrients the blood provides."
When the tissues do not receive blood they stop sending signals to the brain, which in turn becomes the catalyst for symptoms like vertigo, tinnitus and hearing loss.
A link between endolymphatic hydrops and Meniere's disease was first suggested in 1938, and since then a plethora of mechanisms have been proposed to explain why the attacks occur and the resulting progressive deafness.
Unfortunately, no satisfying answer has explained all the aspects of the ailment and no treatment that is based on these theories has proven successful in combating and controlling the progression of Meniere.
However, if the current theory is proven it would open the doors for new treatment methods for Meniere, which would bring relief to several millions of people who are suffering from the disease all over the world.