Hydrops Diet

written by Dr Yeo Sek Wee on 9 May 2013

The fluid-filled hearing and balance structures of the inner ear normally function independent of the body's overall fluid/blood system. In a normal inner ear, the fluid is maintained at a constant volume and contains specific concentrations of sodium, potassium, chloride and other electrolytes. This fluid bathes the sensory cells of the inner ear and allows them to function normally.

With injury or degeneration of the inner ear structures, independent control is lost, and the volume and concentration of the inner ear fluid fluctuates with changes in the body's fluid/blood. This fluctuation causes the symptoms of hydrops--pressure or fullness in the ears, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), hearing loss, dizziness and imbalance.
How does what I eat affect my dizziness?
Your inner ear fluid is influenced by certain substances in your blood and other body fluids. For instance, when you eat foods that are high in salt or sugar, your blood level concentration of salt or sugar increases, and this, in turn, will affect the concentration of substances in your inner ear.
People with certain balance disorders must control the amount of salt and sugar that is added to food. You must also become aware of the hidden salts and sugars that foods contain. Limiting or eliminating your use of caffeine and alcohol will also help to reduce symptoms of dizziness and ringing in the ears.
Dietary goals
The goal of treatment is to provide stable body fluid/blood levels so that secondary fluctuations in the inner ear fluid can be avoided.
1. Distribute your food and fluid intake evenly throughout the day and from day to day. Eat approximately the same  
    amount of food at each meal and do not skip meals. If you eat snacks, have them at regular times.
2. Avoid eating foods or fluids which have a high salt content. High salt intake results in fluctuations in the inner ear
    fluid pressure and may increase your symptoms. Aim for a diet high in fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains,
    and low in canned, frozen or processed foods. A 1-gram sodium intake diet is usually what we recommend. 
3. Drink adequate amounts of fluid daily. This should include water, milk and low-sugar fruit juices (for example,
    cranberry or cranapple). Try to anticipate fluid loss which will occur with exercise or heat, and replace these fluids
    before they are lost. Be cautious about the milk intake - some individuals have food allergy and get symptoms
    from milk products. 
4. Avoid caffeine-containing fluids and foods (such as coffee, tea and chocolate). Caffeine has stimulant properties
    that may make your symptoms worse. Caffeine also may make tinnitus louder. Large amounts of caffeine may      
    trigger migraine (migraine can be difficult diagnostically to separate from Menieres disease). Chocolate is also a
    migraine trigger. 
5. Limit your alcohol intake to one glass of beer or wine each day. Alcohol may trigger migraine associated vertigo. 
6. Avoid foods containing MSG (monosodium glutamate). This is often present in pre-packaged food products and in
    Chinese food. It may increase symptoms in some patients, possibly because of the link to migraine associated
    vertigo, and also because it contains sodium.
Drug Considerations
1. Avoid aspirin and medications that contain aspirin. Aspirin can cause tinnitus (abnormal noise in the ear).
    Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents such as ibuprofen or naproxen should also be avoided when practical.
2. Avoid caffeine-containing medications. Caffeine can increase tinnitus as well as have the problems mentioned
    above under foods.
3. Pay attention to the content of all over-the-counter medications as well as drugs prescribed by other physicians.
    Some medications may increase your symptoms. 
4. Avoid cigarettes. The nicotine present in cigarettes constricts blood vessels and can decrease the blood supply to
    the inner ear, making your symptoms worse. 
Where can I get additional help in modifying my diet? 
Dietitians can help you work out a nutritional program which meets your special needs. They can also suggest ways to prepare your favorite foods for a restricted-salt or low-sugar diet. With their assistance, you'll find that modifying your eating habits can help you control the symptoms of your balance disorder.
There are several excellent books which can help in determining which foods are high in salt. Barbara Kraus's "Complete Guide to Sodium" (Signet, 1987) is a paperback book which lists most foods.