Meniere's disease is a disorder of the inner ear that causes spontaneous episodes of vertigo — a sensation of a spinning motion — along with fluctuating hearing loss, ringing in the ear (tinnitus), and sometimes a feeling of fullness or pressure in your ear. In most cases, Meniere's disease affects only one ear.
People in their 40s and 50s are more likely than people in other age groups to develop Meniere's disease, but it can occur in anyone, even children.
Although Meniere's disease is considered a chronic condition, there are various treatment strategies that can help relieve symptoms and minimize the disease's long-term impact on your life.
The primary signs and symptoms of Meniere's disease are:
A typical episode might start with a feeling of fullness in your ear, increasing tinnitus and decreasing hearing followed by severe vertigo, often accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Such an episode might last two to three hours, after which signs and symptoms improve. Episodes often occur in clusters, with long periods of mild or no symptoms (remission) between.
Still, the severity, frequency and duration of each of these sensory perception problems vary, especially early in the disease. For example, you could have frequent episodes with severe vertigo and only mild disturbances in other sensations. Or you may experience mild vertigo and hearing loss infrequently but have frequent tinnitus that disturbs your sleep.
When to see a doctor
Vertigo is an uncommon but possible sign of other disorders, such as stroke, brain tumor, multiple sclerosis, or diseases of your heart or blood vessels (cardiovascular disease). See your primary care doctor immediately if vertigo is accompanied by any of the following signs or symptoms:
The cause of Meniere's disease isn't well understood. It appears to be the result of the abnormal volume or composition of fluid in the inner ear.
The inner ear is a cluster of connected passages and cavities called a labyrinth. The outside of the inner ear is made of bone (bony labyrinth). Inside is a soft structure of membrane (membranous labyrinth) that's a slightly smaller, similarly shaped version of the bony labyrinth. The membranous labyrinth contains a fluid (endolymph) and is lined with hair-like sensors that respond to movement of the fluid.
In order for all of the sensors in the inner ear to function properly, the fluid needs to retain a certain volume, pressure and chemical composition. Factors that alter the properties of inner ear fluid may help cause Meniere's disease. Scientists have proposed a number of potential causes or triggers, including:
Because no single cause has been identified, it's likely that Meniere's disease is caused by a combination of factors.
Inner ear and balance
Semicircular canals and otolith organs — the utricle and saccule — in your inner ear contain fluid and fine, hair-like sensors that help you keep your eye focused on a target when your ...
The unpredictable episodes of vertigo are usually the most debilitating problem of Meniere's disease. The episodes often force a person to lie down for several hours and lose time from work or leisure activities, and they can cause emotional stress.
Vertigo can also increase your risk of:
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to first see your family doctor or a general practitioner. Eventually, however, your primary care doctor may refer you to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist, or otolaryngologist; a hearing specialist (audiologist); or a nervous system specialist (neurologist).
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
A diagnosis of Meniere's disease requires:
If you have signs or symptoms associated with Meniere's disease, your doctor will ask you questions about your sensory problems, order tests that evaluate the quality of inner ear function and order other tests to screen for possible causes of the problems.
Physical examination and medical history
There are several tests that assess function of the inner ear. Some or all of these tests can yield abnormal results in a person with Meniere's disease. The evaluation most commonly used for Meniere's disease is electronystagmography.
Tests to rule out other conditions
Treatments and drugs
No cure exists for Meniere's disease, but a number of strategies may help you manage some symptoms. Research shows that most people with Meniere's disease respond to treatment, although long-term hearing loss is difficult to prevent.
Medications for vertigo
Long-term medication use
Because diuretic medications cause you to urinate more frequently, your system may become depleted of certain minerals, such as potassium. If you take a diuretic, supplement your diet each week with three or four extra servings of potassium-rich foods, such as bananas, cantaloupe, oranges, spinach and sweet potatoes.
Noninvasive therapies and procedures
Middle ear injections
Lifestyle and home remedies
Certain self-care tactics can help reduce the impact of Meniere's disease. Consider these tips for use during an episode:
Other lifestyle changes
Coping and support
Meniere's disease may affect your interaction with friends and family, your productivity at work, and the overall quality of your life. You may find encouragement and understanding in a support group. Group members can provide information, resources, support and coping strategies. Your doctor may be able to recommend a group in your area, or you may find information about local groups from the Vestibular Disorders Association.
Last Updated: 2010-06-18
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