Meniere’s disease research in Australia
“Aussie bids to crack middle ear disease. Meniere’s Laboratory in Sydney Paves The Way for Research”
Dr Daniel Brown, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Sydney’s Medical School, heads the world’s first research facility solely dedicated to finding the cause and a cure for Meniere’s Disease.
The debilitating condition of the middle ear has been baffling scientists since it was first described by French physician Prosper Meniere in 1861.
Its cause remains unclear – genetic, hormonal or even a viral trigger for fluid or pressure fluctuations within the body’s balancing mechanism, the middle ear – but its impact on sufferers is well known.
They experience sudden and recurring bouts of dizziness, each lasting up to 24 hours and accompanied by nausea and vomiting, with the first of these attacks usually occurring in a person’s mid-30s.
“Some people will get these attacks and will immediately drop to the floor and other people they can sense it is coming on,” Dr Brown, who heads the Meniere’s Laboratory, told AAP this week.
“Imagine being so dizzy that you have to call an ambulance and stay in hospital for a couple of days.
“… Or if you’ve ever had a big night out and then the room is spinning and you just want it to stop – well times that by 10.”
When a sufferer experienced one of these attacks, which they dub the “dizzy terror”, in public they may be dismissed by onlookers as simply being drunk.
Dr Brown said these attacks often occurred in clusters. Stress could bring on an attack as could a diet high in salt while sufferers would also experience worsening hearing and balance problems over time.
It was also common for sufferers to report feeling increasingly sensitive to certain sounds and changes in atmospheric pressure.
Sufferers could feel uncomfortable driving in a car with the window down while routine sounds could also have a “distressing” effect.
“When you have a complex hearing loss, your brain reorganises itself,” Dr Brown said.
“They’ll flush the toilet and say that sounds awful … it can have a high-pitched wheeling. It won’t sound right.”
Dr Brown said this all added up to a debilitating condition that was enough to force some sufferers out of the workforce.
While 50,000 Australians were diagnosed with the condition the total number of sufferers could be triple this as the condition was often confused for migraine or vertigo.
Diagnosing was also no guarantee of fixing the problem, Dr Brown said, as conventional treatments alleviate the dizzy spell but do not halt the decline in hearing or balance.
“Clinicians all know about it, and know of Meniere’s sufferers, but because they can’t really help them it gets put to the side,” Dr Brown said.
“People have been studying it for the last 100 years and they drop it because they think that’s old Meniere’s Disease, no one is ever going to come up with an explanation for that or come up with a cure.
“It’s done with – we can’t work it out.”
The Meniere’s Laboratory was established last year as the culmination of about eight years of fundraising by the Meniere’s Research Fund, a group formed by Australian sufferers.
Dr Brown’s work is now focused on trying to find an improved diagnostic test for identifying excess fluid in the ear and determining the effects of the resultant build-up of pressure.
Recent studies overseas had made some headway in understanding what a sufferer experienced at the height of a dizzy attack, he said, including a spike in sensitivity for the middle ear without temporary deafness.
Dr Brown said there was a growing global momentum behind the research effort, with the aim of pushing treatment to the next step.
“The you-beaut treatment would stop the attack and prevent the degeneration of hearing and balance,” he said.
“.. And that would be a god-send for these people, allowing them to get back on with their normal lives.
“These people are distraught with the fear of when one of these attacks is going to come on.”
You can see the whole article here: http://news.ninemsn.com.au/health/1068824/aussie-bids-to-crack-middle-ear-disease
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