Ménière’s disease is a rare disorder that affects the inner ear. It can cause vertigo, tinnitus, hearing loss, and a feeling of pressure deep inside the ear.
People with Ménière’s disease usually experience some or all of these symptoms during sudden attacks, which typically last around two to three hours, although it can take a day or two for the symptoms to disappear completely.
It’s worth noting, however, that the symptoms and severity of Ménière’s disease vary widely from person to person. Some people may experience frequent attacks of vertigo along with hearing loss, while others may have severe tinnitus with minor vertigo. Other symptoms include sensitivity to sound (hyperacusis) or distorted sound.
See your GP if you experience any of the symptoms of Ménière’s disease, so they can try to identify the problem and refer you to a specialist if necessary.
Read more about the symptoms and stages of Ménière’s disease and diagnosing Ménière’s disease.
How Ménière’s disease progresses
Ménière’s disease often progresses through different stages. In the early stages, most people have sudden and unpredictable attacks of vertigo, accompanied by nausea, vomiting and dizziness.
The attacks of vertigo continue, but may come and go and become less severe. It’s common to experience a loss of balance or dizziness before or after these attacks. Permanent hearing loss and tinnitus continue to develop and may be worse during attacks of vertigo.
During the later stages, the episodes of vertigo tend to occur less frequently and sometimes stop altogether over time. However, the tinnitus and hearing loss often become worse and you may be left with permanent balance and hearing problems.
Who is affected
In the UK, it’s estimated that around one in 1,000 people have Ménière’s disease.
Ménière’s disease most commonly affects people aged 20-60 and it’s thought to be slightly more common in women than men.
What causes Ménière’s disease?
The exact cause of Ménière’s disease is unknown, but it’s thought to be caused by a problem with pressure deep inside the ear.
Factors that can increase your risk of developing Ménière’s disease include a family history of the condition and a chemical imbalance in the fluid in your inner ear.
Read more about the causes of Ménière’s disease.
How Ménière’s disease is treated
Treatments for Ménière’s disease can usually help people with the condition control their symptoms. However, current treatments aren’t able to cure the condition.
Possible treatments include:
- medicines to treat the symptoms and prevent attacks
- changes to your eating habits, such as a low-salt diet
- balance training (vestibular rehabilitation)
- relaxation techniques
- surgery, in more severe cases
A number of different surgical procedures may be used to treat Ménières disease, depending on how severe the symptoms are and whether one or both ears are affected. However, the effectiveness of surgery is unclear and research is continuing.
Read more about the treatment of Ménière’s disease.
Support and advice
Some people with Ménière’s disease also find that the condition affects their mental health. The unpredictable nature of the attacks and the restrictions this can place on your activities can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression.
Your GP can offer advice and support if you’re finding it difficult to cope with the effect Ménière’s disease is having on your life. There are also a number of support groups, such as the Meniere’s Society, that can provide assistance and advice.