Meniere's disease is a disorder of the inner ear that can lead to dizzy spells (vertigo) and hearing loss. In most cases, Meniere's disease affects only one ear.
Meniere's disease can occur at any age, but it usually starts between young and middle-aged adulthood. It's considered a chronic condition, but various treatments can help relieve symptoms and minimize the long-term impact on your life.
Signs and symptoms of Meniere's disease include:
- Recurring episodes of vertigo. You have a spinning sensation that starts and stops spontaneously. Episodes of vertigo occur without warning and usually last 20 minutes to several hours, but not more than 24 hours. Severe vertigo can cause nausea.
- Hearing loss. Hearing loss in Meniere's disease may come and go, particularly early on. Eventually, most people have some permanent hearing loss.
- Ringing in the ear (tinnitus). Tinnitus is the perception of a ringing, buzzing, roaring, whistling or hissing sound in your ear.
- Feeling of fullness in the ear. People with Meniere's disease often feel pressure in an affected ear (aural fullness).
After an episode, signs and symptoms improve and might disappear entirely for a while. Over time, the frequency of episodes may lessen.
When to see a doctor
See your doctor if you have signs or symptoms of Meniere's disease. These problems can be caused by other illnesses, and it's important to get an accurate diagnosis as soon as possible.
The cause of Meniere's disease is unknown. Symptoms of Meniere's disease appear to be the result of an abnormal amount of fluid (endolymph) in the inner ear, but it isn't clear what causes that to happen.
Factors that affect the fluid, which might contribute to Meniere's disease, include:
- Improper fluid drainage, perhaps because of a blockage or anatomic abnormality
- Abnormal immune response
- Viral infection
- Genetic predisposition
Because no single cause has been identified, it's likely that Meniere's disease results from a combination of factors.
The unpredictable episodes of vertigo and the prospect of permanent hearing loss can be the most difficult problems of Meniere's disease. The disease can unexpectedly interrupt your life, causing fatigue and stress.
Vertigo can cause you to lose balance, increasing your risk of falls and accidents.