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Q
Mastery Over Meniere's Disease?

What is Meniere's disease? What treatment do you recommend?

A
Answer (Published 12/7/2006)

Ménière's disease is an inner-ear disorder that intermittently triggers vertigo (the very unpleasant sensation of things spinning around you, often accompanied by nausea and loss of balance), tinnitus (ringing in the ears), fluctuating hearing loss, and a feeling of fullness, pressure, or pain in the affected ear. No one knows what causes Méniére's disease, but the attacks themselves are believed to stem from changes in fluid volume in the membranous labyrinth, a section of the inner ear that is responsible for maintaining balance and orientation of the body in space. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) estimates that 615,000 individuals have been diagnosed with Méniére's disease in the United States and that an additional 45,500 are diagnosed each year.

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Ménière's symptoms tend to occur suddenly and can arise daily or as infrequently as once a year. Unfortunately, there's no cure. Several surgical procedures have been developed to help treat it, but all carry a risk of permanent hearing loss.

However, you may be able to reduce the frequency and intensity of attacks by reducing fluid retention in the body via a low-salt diet, elimination of caffeine and alcohol and adjusting or avoiding any medication that may contribute. You may also be able to lessen the severity of symptoms by giving up smoking and taking steps to reduce stress, such as practicing breathing techniques, biofeedback or guided imagery. Conventional treatments include diuretics and anti-nausea or anti-vertigo medications, which may offer symptomatic relief.

I also recommend cranial osteopathy, a form of manual medicine in which practitioners use their hands to adjust the body mechanically so that breathing is unrestricted, the nervous system functions more smoothly, and fluids move better in the head. You can find a qualified practitioner in your area by visiting www.cranialacademy.org and clicking on "Find a Professional."

Acupuncture may help, too, as may postural approaches such as yoga, the Feldenkrais Method, and the Alexander Technique, all of which can help relieve chronic muscular tension in the head and neck that may be restricting circulation. You also might try taking Ginkgo biloba, which appears to increase blood flow in the head and peripheral areas. The dosage is two capsules three times a day for two months as a trial.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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