Ménière’s disease is a problem that affects the inner ear. It causes sudden spells of severe dizziness that can last many minutes to hours. The dizziness is usually described as a feeling of spinning (vertigo). There is often some loss of hearing as well. It usually affects just one ear, but it can happen in both ears. The symptoms can be mild or severe. Although the dizziness can be very disabling, it can usually be controlled. There can be a significant hearing loss, but complete deafness is rare.
Deep inside the skull lies the inner ear, made up of the fluid-filled tubes fluid-filled tubes that help you hear and keep your balance. The spells of dizziness are caused by an increase in fluid pressure in the inner ear. What causes the increase in pressure is not known.
The most common symptoms are:
Symptoms may come and go. There may be times when you don’t have any symptoms for weeks, months, or years.
Your healthcare provider will ask you about your medical history. You will have a physical exam. Usually, you will need to see an ear, nose and throat doctor (otolaryngologist) to help make the diagnosis.
You will have a simple test of your hearing (an audiogram).
You may have some special tests of balance or special hearing tests. You may also need an MRI or CT scan of your ear and brain.
Usually the first step is to try to stop the dizzy spells by preventing the buildup of fluid pressure in the inner ear. Ways to do this include:
This treatment to lower fluid pressure is successful for most people with Ménière’s disease.
Sometimes allergies can cause or worsen Ménière’s symptoms. These include environmental and food allergies. Your provider may recommend allergy testing and treatment with allergy medicines or allergy shots.
If these treatments do not stop the attacks of dizziness, a number of other treatments may be tried.
Your provider may give you an anti-dizziness medicine such as meclizine (Antivert) or valium to help with the symptoms. It helps with the nausea and vomiting that often happen with dizziness, but it may make you sleepy.
An attack typically lasts several hours. Attacks may come every few days or every few years. Often Ménière’s disease is a mild illness and can be controlled with medicine. Sometimes symptoms last all your life. Even if the dizzy spells are stopped, you may keep having ear noise and hearing loss. Sometimes a hearing aid can help with these symptoms.
The cause of Meniere’s disease is not known. It is sometimes related to eating too much salt. Eating a low salt diet may prevent the onset of Meniere’s disease.