Meniere’s disease is a disorder that affects the inner ear. People affected with this condition usually have hearing problems and problems balancing, to a varying degree. Meniere’s disease usually leads to progressive hearing loss to one ear, accompanied by characteristic episodes of vertigo and tinnitus. Vertigo is here defined as a feeling of motion when a person is stationary, while tinnitus refers to the perception of sound within ear in the absence of corresponding external sound. This condition affects different people in different ways ranging from mild annoyance to very severe and lifelong disability. Because of the specific signs and symptoms of this disease, many patients are worried about the consequences if they experience an attack episode while driving.
Meniere’s disease and driving
Meniere’s disease manifests in sudden attacks of vertigo, hearing loss or noise in the ears. This means that a person isn’t safe to drive once when the Meniere’s disease is diagnosed. If the attack includes vertigo, the patient may lose the control over the vehicle or a steering wheel. It is very important that people with this disease avoid driving or even completely discontinue driving. Some of the patients may have a specific variant of this disorder that manifests in the aura that precedes the attack. These individuals may continue driving but only on locations where they can easily stop the vehicle before the attack occurs. People with Meniere’s disease are not allowed to operate heavy machinery, climb, surf, and swim or pilot an aircraft. They should avoid any kind of risky activity until one week has passed since the attack.
Symptoms of Meniere’s disease
As already mentioned, not all the patients experience the same manifestations of this disease. The classic variant of the disease includes these high-risk and periodic episodes of vertigo or dizziness, tinnitus on both or one ear, sensation of fullness and pressure in the ears, and fluctuating and progressive hearing loss. Deafness usually happens on the lower frequencies.
In most cases, the condition starts with a single symptom, typically tinnitus, and then gradually develops to include all of the mentioned symptoms. The attack can last anywhere from a couple of minutes to a couple of hours but in very rare cases it lasts for more than a day. The most severe form of the disease includes attacks that may last or reoccur from quite a few days to several weeks. After the attack, some people may experience improvement in hearing but in most of the cases the hearing becomes progressively worse.
Drop attacks, which are most dangerous while driving, may even cause that the sufferer suddenly falls without warning. These attacks are common for the later stage of the disease but they can occur at any time.