What is Meniere’s disease?
Meniere’s disease is a problem that occurs in 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.
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 just sometimes. Attacks may last from 20 minutes to 2 hours or longer. Meniere’s disease usually occurs in only one ear. But some people have problems in both ears.
Symptoms of Meniere’s disease
During an attack, symptoms include dizziness, a feeling of fullness in the ear, and tinnitus (a ringing 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.
What causes Meniere’s disease?
Doctors don’t know exactly what causes Meniere’s Disease. They believe it is related to having extra fluid in the inner ear. This extra fluid could be caused by several factors including allergies, viral infections, genetics, improper drainage of the middle ear, or more.
Meniere’s disease can develop at any age but is more common in middle-aged adults.
How is Meniere’s disease diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms. They will ask you to describe what happens when you have an attack. Your doctor will want to rule out other ear problems, so they may do some tests. These tests might include:
- Hearing tests
- Blood tests
- MRI or CT scan (tests that “take pictures” of the inside of your ears and head)
- Special tests that check your balance and how well your ears work
Can Meniere’s disease be prevented or avoided?
Because doctors don’t know exactly what causes Meniere’s disease, you may not be able to prevent it. However, you can help control attacks by modifying your lifestyle and diet. Talk to your doctor about treating fluid build-up in your ear.
Meniere’s disease treatment
There is no cure for Meniere’s disease, but your doctor can suggest ways to manage your symptoms, including:
- Changing your diet by limiting your salt intake. This will indirectly control the amount of fluid in your inner ear.
- A medicine called a diuretic (water pill)
- Limiting the amount of caffeine and alcohol in your diet
- Quitting smoking or using other tobacco products
- Treating your allergies to reduce the fluid build-up in your ear
Your doctor also 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.
Reducing the number of attacks decreases your chances for progressive hearing loss associated with the disease. This hearing loss is often temporary but can be permanent.
What should I do during an attack?
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 tolerate liquids, call your doctor.
Living with Meniere’s disease
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.
Questions to ask your doctor
- How often do attacks occur?
- What should I do when I have an attack?
- How long should I wait before calling my doctor when I have an attack?
- Is there a medicine I can take for the dizziness?
- If I take a diuretic, is there any special diet I should follow?
- If I follow a low-salt diet, are there resources you can recommend for recipes?
- Will my Meniere’s disease ever go away?
- Is there a Meniere’s disease support group in my area?
- Could Meniere’s disease cause me to permanently lose my hearing?
- Can I drive if I have an attack?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.