Researchers may have discovered a plan to disable Meniere's disease

Researchers at University of Colorado School of Medicine may have figured out what causes Meniere's disease and how to attack it. According to Carol Foster, MD, from the department of otolaryngology and Robert Breeze, MD, a neurosurgeon, there is a strong association between Meniere's disease and conditions involving temporary low blood flow in the brain such as migraine headaches.

Meniere's affects approximately 3 to 5 million people in the United States. It is a disabling disorder resulting in repeated violent attacks of dizziness, ringing in the ear and hearing loss that can last for hours and can ultimately cause permanent deafness in the affected ear. Up until now, the cause of the attacks has been unknown, with no theory fully explaining the many symptoms and signs of the disorder.

"If our hypothesis is confirmed, treatment of 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."

Foster explains that these attacks can be caused by a combination of two factors: 1) a malformation of the inner ear, endolymphatic hydrops (the inner ear dilated with fluid) and 2) risk factors for vascular disease in the brain, such as migraine, sleep apnea, smoking and atherosclerosis.

The researchers propose that a fluid buildup in part of the inner ear, which is strongly associated with Meniere attacks, indicates the presence of a pressure-regulation problem that acts to cause mild, intermittent decreases of blood flow within the ear. When this is combined with that also lower blood flow to the brain and ear, sudden loss of blood flow similar to (or mini strokes) in the brain can be generated in the sensory tissues. In young people who have hydrops without vascular disorders, no attacks occur because blood flow continues in spite of these fluctuations. However, in people with vascular diseases, these fluctuations are sufficient to rob the ear of blood flow and the nutrients the blood provides. When the tissues that sense hearing and motion are starved of blood, they stop sending signals to the brain, which sets off the vertigo, tinnitus and hearing loss in the disorder.

Restoration of does not resolve the problem. Scientists believe it triggers a damaging after-effect called the ischemia-reperfusion pathway in the excitable tissues of the ear that silences the ear for several hours, resulting in the prolonged severe vertigo and that is characteristic of the disorder. Although most of the tissues recover, each spell results in small areas of damage that over time results in permanent loss of both hearing and balance function in the ear.

Since the first linkage of endolymphatic hydrops and Meniere's disease in 1938, a variety of mechanisms have been proposed to explain the and the progressive deafness, but no answer has explained all aspects of the disorder, and no treatment based on these theories has proven capable of controlling the progression of the disease. This new theory, if proven, would provide many new avenues of treatment for this previously poorly-controlled disorder.

More information: The article is available online at: The Meniere attack: An ischemia/reperfusion disorder of inner ear sensory tissues, Medical Hypotheses, December 2013.

Related Stories

Helping to restore balance after inner ear disorder

Jun 13, 2013

Many disorders of the inner hear which affect both hearing and balance can be hugely debilitating and are currently largely incurable. Cochlear implants have been used for many years to replace lost hearing resulting from ...

Recommended for you

A novel therapy for sepsis?

14 hours ago

A University of Tokyo research group has discovered that pentatraxin 3 (PTX3), a protein that helps the innate immune system target invaders such as bacteria and viruses, can reduce mortality of mice suffering ...

Cellular protein may be key to longevity

Sep 15, 2014

Researchers have found that levels of a regulatory protein called ATF4, and the corresponding levels of the molecules whose expression it controls, are elevated in the livers of mice exposed to multiple interventions ...

Gut bacteria tire out T cells

Sep 15, 2014

Leaky intestines may cripple bacteria-fighting immune cells in patients with a rare hereditary disease, according to a study by researchers in Lausanne, Switzerland. The study, published in The Journal of Experimental Me ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

johnwbales
not rated yet Dec 06, 2013
I was over the age of 50 before I learned that not everyone's ears rang constantly. I was shocked to discover that it is considered to be a disease. My ears have rang loudly my entire life and I thought that it was normal. Even though the ringing is louder than most natural background noise, I do not notice it unless I choose to. And it has never bothered me since it has been a life-long constant. Are fish bothered by water? I would probably find it quite unsettling were the ringing to suddenly stop.
MWS
not rated yet Dec 06, 2013
Wow, this is a big deal for people diagnosed with Meniere's. The prognosis for this disease has always been that "it is degenerative and you will eventually go deaf and loose your balance"... please pay the attendant on your way out. Hopefully treatment options will arise from these findings that bring a better future for Meniere's sufferers.
twila_cox_7
not rated yet Dec 07, 2013
Please do more research. This is also linked to autoimmune diseases. I think you are on the right track but not all of us are the same. I have bi-lateral issues, drop attacks and was bed bound over 3 years ago after taking plaqueneil and steroids for a couple of years things are slowed for my ears. Under stress I still have flares but not as severe as when I started treatment. The noise you can get use too. But not the drops.