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Intratympanic Steroid Treatment For Meniere's Disease

Timothy C. Hain, MD

Please read our disclaimer Return to Index. Page last modified: October 18, 2013

Intratympanic steroid (ITS) defined

Types of Fistulae Figure 1A. A steroid such as dexamethasone, methylprednisolone or betamethasone can be placed into the middle ear using self-administered drops. This picture shows the tube being placed in the ear drum.
Figure 1B. Steroid injected into the middle ear. Multiple injections are usually required for this method.

 

In extremely severe cases of episodic vertigo, such as due to Meniere's disease, treatments administered into the middle ear may be considered. This is a near last resort treatment for persons who have severe attacks of vertigo. The goal of these treatments is to affect the inner ear using medication that enters the ear through the round window. The presumption is that the mechanism of disease is immune mediated. Corticosteroids decrease inflammation in the ear and may increase labyrinthine circulation. There also has been some suggestion that steroids affect the salt metabolism in the inner ear. This idea seems odd to us in that the usual medication used -- dexamethasone -- has very little if any mineralocorticoid effect.

There are also some suggestions that corticosteroids are antioxidants (Chi et al, 2011)

Steroids can be given orally, and this method is discussed here.

Indications for ITG steroids.

The author of this article is not enthusiastic about ITG steroids for Meniere's disease. The reason is that the drug is gone in a few days, and even if it works, it has to be repeated every 3 months. It also seems to us to be a far inferior method to use of IT gentamicin, which provides a durable solution.   This has also been noted by others (Casani et al, 2011; Gabra and Saliba, 2013).

Steroid injections may be reasonable when one is attempting to diagnose autoimmune inner ear disease. It may also be justifiable for sudden hearing loss.

Steroid injections (like endolymphatic shunt surgery for Meniere's disease) are a procedure that seems to be very popular as a surgical intervention. Both procedures lack a good rationale, but they are rarely do harm. As the dictum goes -- "Primum, no nocere" -- First do no harm.

Prevalence of the treatment

Nevertheless, steroid injections are rapidly growing in popularity. At the present time (2008) in the author's practice in Chicago, he will occasionally recommend it to a patient who is having a flare of well defined Meniere's disease, or a sudden hearing loss. The reasons for the lack of enthusiasm are given in the author's article on Meniere's disease itself, but in essence, it doesn't seem to work unless it is given over a long period, and there are alternatives (i.e. low dose gentamicin) that are much more durable, and we are skeptical that it is a good idea to give multiple injections of steroids into the middle ear over a long period of time. Still, things are changing with this treatment.

Methodology:

Injections of steroid can be given through the ear drum, by way of a small needle (figure 1B), or administered as drops through a ventilation tube (figure 1A). IT steroids allows one to treat one side, without affecting the other. It also avoids complications of systemic steroids, may avoid surgery, and may work when other treatments fail.

The dexamethasone solution should be prepared fresh (preservatives cause intense pain). A mixture last about 1 week. Make two small incisions - -one for the injection and one for ventilation. Allow the dexamethasone to warm to room temperature (to avoid dizziness). Inject the dexamethasone through the posterior incision (Minor, 2008).

The protocol suggested for most patients begins with a single intratympanic injection of dexamethasone (12 mg/ml). Follow up in 2-3 weeks. Repeat the injection at 6-8 weeks if vertigo recurs. (Minor, 2008)

Results

Authors number patients treated Protocol response Comment

Silverstein et al. (1998). "

20 3 injections in 3 days None Short duration

Hirvonen, et al, 2000

17 3 injections over 1 week 76% control of vertigo , no response of hearing Short duration

Barrs, et al. (2001).

21 2 injections in 2 weeks 43% response at 6 mo (similar to placebo) Short duration
Sennaroglu et al. 2001 24 drops instilled every other day for 3 months 72% relief of vertigo, no response of hearing or tinnitus Long duration
Arriaga et al. 2003; 15 Single dose None Short duration
Dodson et al, 2004 22 Various Short term relief  
Boleas et al, 2007 129 3-4 injections/year "Acceptable" vertigo control in 91% Long duration

Intratympanic steroids has been reported to improve the ECOG (Martin-Sanz et al, 2013).

Variant intratympanic steroid procedures

Most practitioners use a simple protocol of an injections of steroids, delivered weekly or longer intervals. However, the most successful methods reported to date, such as the studies of Sennaroglu and Boleas, involve a longer periods of administration.

Dexamethasone has the longest half-life: 36-54 hours. We would expect that steroids in the inner ear would persist for a shorter period than in the body, because in the inner ear, steroids are not at equilibrium with the body at large. Thus, one would think that all single injection protocols would be likely to fail.

Certain steroids seem to cause more pain than others. Dexamethasone seems to be the best tolerated, in a dose of 12-24 mg/ml. Solumedrol was reported by Parnes to be more painful (1999).

Self-administered steroids

The simplest procedure (and the least expensive) reported so far is that of Sennaroglu et al (2001). They had simply had the patient administer dexamethasone themselves through a ventilation tube. A tube is placed in the posterio-inferior quadrant of the TM. Patients are instructed to lie on their side and place 5 drops into the affected ear once every other day. After the instillation, they are to lie with the ear upright for 15 minutes. A low concentration of dexamethasone is used -- 1 mg/ml. This is far less than the amount (24 mg/ml) used when the drug is injected.

Complications of ITS.

While ITS is generally thought to be safe, there are many possible (probably minor) complications (see Doyle et al, 2004).

The common risks are pain, short-lasting vertigo, otitis media, and tympanic membrane perforation.

Pain during the insertion of the drug is common. This is not unexpected as puncturing ones body with needles is usually painful. Pain from the drops themselves are rare, especially if dexamethasone is used, but preservatives in the drops may be painful.

Otitis media was reported in only 1/24 patients using the method of Sennaroglu et al (drops through tube). It seems to be even more rare in patients who have direct injections. When otitis media occurs with a tube in place, the option of using a ear drop such as Floxin is available.

Perforation of the ear drum is a possible complication. Steroids impair wound healing and one might expect slower closure. Perforation risk is increased by radiation of the ear. This complication can generally be handled easily by an otologist and the perforation can be closed.

Vertigo. Temporary vertigo can occur when the solutions being used are not at body temperature or if the solutions contain lidocaine. Most patients are able to walk around unassisted after 20-30 minutes after injections. Permanent vertigo and imbalance have not been reported.

Hearing loss: most physicians using intratympanic steroids feel that there is little of any risk of hearing loss (Doyle et al, 2005).

Cost: This can be a very expensive method of treating Meniere's disease. Otologic surgeons may bill $3000 for this 30 minute procedure, possibly repeated 4 times per year. Other similar methods of treating Menieres, such as use of gentamicin instead, cost the same amount but don't need multiple repetitions. Thus, the cost to the health care system of gentamicin treatment is much lower than steroid treatment.

Failure: ITS might fail for several reasons --

Where to get intratympanic steroid treatment

ITS is an emerging treatment. Generally it is provided by ear doctors (Otologists -- a subspecialty of ENT). Variants are common, and many of the variants seem no better than placebo. We advise careful investigation of the protocol offered by your local practitioners. We favor the longer durations methods described above. Be sure that someone can monitor your treatment closely.

References related to intratympanic steroid treatment:

Copyright March 24, 2014 , Timothy C. Hain, M.D. All rights reserved. Last saved on March 24, 2014