What is Meniere’s disease?

Meniere’s disease (also called idiopathic endolymphatic hydrops) is a chronic disorder of the inner ear that can affect both balance and hearing. It usually affects just one ear and can cause severe dizziness and a feeling of spinning (vertigo). This condition can also cause hearing loss, the sensation of ringing (tinnitus) and a feeling of “fullness” in the ear. Meniere’s disease is one of the most common causes of dizziness.

Who is affected by Meniere’s disease?

Meniere’s disease can affect anyone. But it is more common in adults between 40 and 60 years of age. Approximately 615,000 individuals in the United States are currently diagnosed with Meniere’s disease, and about 45,500 cases are diagnosed each year. In general, people with a family history of Meniere’s disease are at a higher risk of developing this condition.

What are the causes of Meniere’s disease?

The exact cause of Meniere’s disease is unknown. However, it occurs when the pressure of fluid (endolymph) becomes too high in the inner ear tubes.

The tubes help your body maintain a sense of balance. The endolymph works by stimulating receptors as the body moves. The receptors send signals to the brain about the body’s position and movement.

If you have Meniere’s disease, the high levels of endolymph interfere with the signals the receptors are sending to your brain. The causes of the irregularities of fluid levels in the tubes are unknown.

What are the symptoms of Meniere’s disease?

Meniere’s disease often develops quickly, without any warning signs. Attacks of Meniere’s can vary in severity and can occur more than once a day. Or the attacks may occur just a few times per year. The main symptoms include:

  • A feeling of dizziness as if the world is spinning around you (vertigo): This symptom can be so severe that you may not be able to stand up. The dizziness can last from a few minutes to a few hours and can cause severe nausea, vomiting, and sweating.
  • A feeling of pressure or fullness in one ear.
  • A decline in your ability to hear: This may result in a “muffled” effect. The inability to hear low frequencies is usually lost first, though higher pitches may be lost eventually as well. Hearing loss can recover between attacks, but it will permanently worsen over time.
  • Ringing in the ear.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Headaches
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Uncontrollable eye movements

You should see your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.