Meniere's Disease: A Reader's Question

A Question about Meniere's Disease

By Max S. Chartrand Ph.D.

A reader asks about wearing hearing aids while suffering from long-term Meniere's symptoms.

Question:

It's been 8 years since I was diagnosed with Meniere's disease. I was told that a hearing aid would not help my severe hearing loss, but it so hard on me and my relationships with family and friends that I am curious as to what harm getting a hearing aid could cause. Are Meniere's cases never recommended hearing aids? --- Mr. R. M.

Answer:

Dear Mr. R.M.: You asked an important question, one that can benefit many Meniere's sufferers out there.

Meniere's, as you know, is a condition where the three symptoms of hearing loss, vertigo, and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) occur simultaneously. It is caused by an overproduction of one of the inner ear fluids (endolymph) or a lack of resorption. It is usually episodic and can come and go without warning.

Rarely is it ongoing, but when it is it can mean complete deafness, incessant ringing of the ears, and permanent damage to one's balance organs. It is no longer the mystery it once was, as most appear to be caused by ingestion of food containing MSG, aspertame, certain artificial additives, or high salt/high sugar diets. One prominent study implicates food allergy to be a common factor. Tobacco, caffeine, and alcohol also have been identified.

As a side note, it is amazing how many cases of Meniere's are treated medically without addressing these and other causal factors. Without avoidance of these substances, no treatment can be truly effective.

But back to your question: There is virtually no harm in being fitted with hearing aids, especially in cases of severe loss, whether the loss is unilateral or bilateral. Of course, loudness growth, loudness discomfort, and critical bandwidth distortion issues must be addressed in programming of any hearing aids fitted in Meniere's cases. For that reason, I recommend digital or/and programmable hearing aids, though there are some excellent advanced analogues with active filters available at a much lower cost that may be appropriate.

In the final analysis, you may find that adjustments will have to be made from time to time to accommodate changes of hearing sensitivity. Other than that there is no earthly reason, other than misunderstanding among some health professionals, why Meniere's patients who suffer a significant loss of hearing should not receive properly fitted hearing aids.

Another related issue is when only one ear is affected, and the other ear remains "normal". It is a little known fact among the health professions that one ear cannot provide the essential auditory processing functions that one needs to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Two ears provide spatial, summation, attentional and squelch, plus distance hearing that are missed when one ear is out of commission. Add to this, increased speech discrimination in noise and balance difficulties, and there are compelling reasons one should seek help with their unilateral hearing loss, even when the other ear is "normal".

The fact of the matter is that there is no such thing as a "normal" ear when it is left to do the job of two.