Meniere's (say: "men-ears") disease is a problem with your inner ear. No one knows exactly what causes it, but it may be related to a build up of fluid in the inner ear. Although it can be troublesome, Meniere's disease is not contagious, and it isn't fatal.
Although Meniere’s disease is a chronic (ongoing) problem, people who have Meniere's disease don't have symptoms all the time. When symptoms occur, it's called an "attack." Attacks may happen often, or only sometimes. Attacks may last from 20 minutes to 2 hours or longer. Meniere's disease usually occurs in only one ear, although some people who have the disease have problems in both ears.
The symptoms of a Meniere's disease attack include dizziness, a feeling of fullness in the ear and tinnitus (a roaring sound in the ear). The dizziness is described as a spinning or whirling feeling. It may cause problems with balance and make you feel unstable while walking. Because of the spinning feeling, some people sweat, feel nauseated and vomit during an attack. You may also notice some hearing loss, especially with sounds that have a low tone.
Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and ask you to describe what happens when you have an attack. Your doctor will want to rule out other ear problems, so he or she may do some tests. These tests might include hearing and blood tests, an MRI or CT scan (tests that "take pictures" of the inside of your ears and head), or special tests that check your balance and how well your ears work.
There is no cure for Meniere’s disease, but your doctor can suggest ways to manage your symptoms. He or she may recommend that you try to control the attacks by changing your diet. You will probably have to limit your salt intake. Controlling the level of salt in your body will indirectly control the amount of fluid in your inner ear. A medicine called a diuretic (water pill) may also help. Also limit the amount of caffeine and alcohol in your diet, and quit smoking and using other tobacco products.
Your doctor can prescribe medicine to relieve feelings of dizziness and nausea. These medicines may cause you to feel sleepy.
In serious cases of Meniere's disease (when attacks can't be controlled by diet or medicine), surgery may be necessary.
During an attack, try to lie flat on a surface that doesn't move, such as the floor. To cope with the dizziness, keep your eyes aimed at an object that doesn't move. You will be less likely to vomit if you don’t eat or drink much. When your symptoms go away, get up slowly. You may feel very sleepy and want to sleep for several hours after an attack. If you keep vomiting for more than 24 hours and can't keep down any liquids, call your doctor for medicine to help control the vomiting.
Meniere's disease is often frustrating for people who have it. You may have to change the way you live to control the attacks. You should follow your doctor's advice about your diet, and about cutting out alcohol, caffeine and smoking. Since stress may cause an attack, you may have to find ways to limit the stress in your life or learn how to deal with stress more effectively. Let your family, friends and co-workers know about the disease. Tell them how they can help you if you have an attack. There are also support groups for people who have Meniere’s disease.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff