By Brian Robinson.
Like me, if you are suffering from vertigo you will no doubt have some questions that need answering. Starting with the obvious:
1 Is there a cure or are there any treatments available for Meniere’s Disease?
2 Can it be managed in a way that helps reduce the frequency or severity of attacks?
3 And curiously, why does Meniere’s go in and our of remission? Is it simply because the brain struggles with this condition? Or, does something else happen that causes the vertigo to re-emerge?
Perhaps the first thing to remember is that vertigo is not a condition in itself: it is a reaction to a condition. When the signals sent from the inner ear become confused as they do in Meniere’s disease, the brain becomes unsure of where it is in the world. It reacts by initiating vertigo which is essentially a safety system. This causes you to immediately sit down or lie down and that gives your brain time to get its bearings. That’s the rough scheme of things.
When people have vertigo attacks they may also vomit and perhaps to a lesser degree have diarrhoea. In Meniere’s disease the body seems to react to vertigo in much the same way as if we have ingested a toxin. I’ve always found that peppermint can help with nausea and vomiting. Now to the questions.
As far as I am aware, there is nothing that looks remotely like a cure for Meniere’s Disease, however, there are treatments. According to the experts, things like medication, rehabilitation exercises, micro pressure therapy (via Meniett Device), steroid injections and even surgical interventions can help. Generally speaking, these target the ear which we know lies at the heart of the problem. For example, the medication Betahistine is thought to lower pressure in the inner ear. Targeting the ear is certainly one logical pathway, but I’m not a medic, so I’m not going to comment one way or another on these interventions.
Apart from treatments, there are other approaches which hold the potential to help with Meniere’s Disease. This relates to my question about management. The most obvious and well known of these is diet. Avoiding foods which make the condition worse makes perfect sense.
Too much Salt is thought to increase the pressure in the inner ear and thus aggravate Meniere’s. Too much Salt also causes widespread stress throughout the body and perhaps even the brain. The general recommendation seems to be to reduce salt intake to somewhere between 1,500 mg and 2,300 mg a day. Please be sure to take advice before reducing salt intake as too little sodium can cause serious health issues.
Alcohol is a toxin that can easily confuse the brain and is also known to increase the risk of vertigo. Many people who suffer from vertigo stop drinking alcohol altogether.
I have found that eating refined sugars can make matters considerably worse. The modern diet is simply crammed full with this type of sugar which is unnatural and causes sugar spikes. Many processed foods contain refined sugar and even honey can be seen in this way. Generally speaking, eating regular meals that do not contain refined sugar is better for vertigo.
Caffeine is know to have a negative effect on vertigo. It is a stimulant and if you are feeling grim it will make you feel even grimmer. Caffeine is not only found in tea and coffee but also in things like fizzy drinks and chocolate. Even decaffeinated coffee contains enough caffeine to potentially make you feel worse.
There is a body of opinion who believe that Allergies may be the root cause of Meniere’s Disease. Allergies often produce a reaction in the nose and throat so it makes sense to assume that they also create a reaction in the ear. In my case, I had bad reactions to milk and dairy products in the run-up to Meniere’s so this came as no surprise. I now eat no dairy at all.
The other main management approach is to target the brain rather than the ear. But what does this mean in real terms? How can we assist the brain in its struggle with Meniere’s? The answer is we need to be kind to our brain. Make sure it’s getting the vitamins and nutrients it needs; make sure it is hydrated; and make sure it is relaxed and not stressed.
Stress is a known trigger for vertigo. There is a stress management guide on the internet called the ‘Four As’. This contains some good advice on how to become more relaxed and avoid stress. But avoiding stress can be tricky because the vertigo itself can create tension. The best way to become more relaxed about vertigo is to have a management or treatment plan which holds out hope for the future. The other positives are that the last stage of Meniere’s Disease tends to involve less vertigo, and the evidence suggests that the condition does tend to burn out eventually.
Head movement is what causes misleading information to be sent to the brain when one or both ears are affected. It seems logical then, that too much of the worst sort of head movement could trigger vertigo. The worst sort of head movement I find is when you move your hear quickly say from far right to far left. Or, if you raise your head quickly say from floor to ceiling. It may be, that with too much of this type of movement the brain goes into overload mode and an episode of vertigo ensues. This could perhaps explain why people move in and out of remission.
Anyone who has suffered from vertigo for any length of time will know that when you get vertigo you have to rest. Once you lay down and keep your head still your brain will start to recover. Rather than rest when vertigo strikes, I now schedule ‘brain rest‘ periods into my day. After meals seems to work for me and I find it’s best to rest in silence. Listening to music or the radio doesn’t help. I find that about a half an hour is enough.
This brings me to my third question. Could watching TV and video be why Meniere’s moves out of remission? I had known for a long while that watching TV would make my brain feel uncomfortable. But it wasn’t until I experienced the worst ever vertigo attack that it was finally brought home to me. Here was my brain doing its best to untangle the conflicting messages it was receiving, and here was I confusing it further by subjecting it to TV camera techniques and transitions that entirely misrepresent the real world.
The brain has three means of understanding where we are in the world: the ears; the eyes; and the nerve endings. When we have inner ear problems causing vertigo, the brain relies more on the visual data it receives. But how can we expect it to trust our eyes when TV and video breaks all the rules of nature and physics. The world appears strange in a variety of ways; people and objects move unnaturally; we see the world moving yet our head stands still; things move across huge distances in fractions of a second; and we zoom in and out of scenes in an impossible way.
Of course there are lots of other reasons why vertigo may come and go in phases. Apart from being triggered by TV and video, as I’ve already mentioned, excessive head movement could prove too much for our brain. Coincidently, the two worst episodes I’ve ever experienced were preceded by quite large DIY projects. However, it may be that coming and going of vertigo is simply the nature of the beast. However, I could never understand why the brain manages to figure things out, then seems to forget everything it has learned. We hear so much about the so called ‘plastic brain’ and its ability to adapt, yet Meniere’s seems to defy this understanding. I find this difficult to accept.
I’ve never tried all of the above at the same time, but after a bad and extended bout of vertigo I have now been forced to. Within two weeks I noticed the attacks became milder and I recovered from them quicker. The next four weeks were virtually vertigo free and I began feeling a lot better.
I will update this post periodically.