Defining Ménière's Disease
Inner ear swelling, ear pain, balance problems, and hearing loss — these symptoms can all add up to a rare condition known as Ménière's disease.
By Diana Rodriguez
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Ear pain can occur for a number of reasons, including an ear infection, inner ear fluid, damage to the ear, and a condition called Méniére's disease that affects hearing. Named after the French doctor Prosper Méniére, the condition is fairly rare — affecting only around 100,000 people annually.
Ménière’s disease is a condition that affects the inner ear, but the exact cause — and what happens inside the ear — isn't really understood. It's thought that the condition occurs as a result of a problem with inner ear fluid in the canals deep inside the ear, and when a portion of the ear canal known as the endolymphatic sac begins to swell, making it difficult for fluid to exit the ear.
Some possible causes or factors that could contribute to Ménière’s disease include:
- The sexually-transmitted condition syphilis
- An ear infection in the middle ear
- An injury to the head
- The rupture of a membrane in the inner ear
- A viral infection
- Exposure to very loud noises
- Changing pressure inside the inner ear due to fluid
- An autoimmune disease
Common Symptoms of Ménière’s Disease
Ménière’s disease doesn't generally cause severe ear pain. Instead, people with the condition will feel unusual sensations and discomfort in the ear. A number of symptoms are associated with Méniére’s disease, including:
- Vertigo (a sensation that the room is spinning)
- Loss of hearing
- A "full" sensation in the ear
- Tinnitus (a persistent ringing or other sound in the ear)
- Feeling confused and falling down; losing your balance
- Nausea and vomiting
- Feeling dizzy and sweating
- Abnormal movements of the eye that can't be controlled
These symptoms may come on suddenly, and generally don't appear all the time. When Ménière’s disease symptoms strike, it's called an attack — and it may persist for only a few minutes or as long as several hours.
Who’s at Risk for Ménière’s Disease?
Certain habits and other factors are thought to increase the risk of developing Méniére’s disease, including:
- Feeling fatigued
- Being under stress
- Taking some medications, like aspirin
- Having a viral infection or other infection of the respiratory tract
- Having allergies
- Abusing alcohol
- Being a smoker
Treating Méniére's Disease
There is no way to cure Méniére's disease or even stop the symptoms — but treatments are available to help manage its attacks and reduce their frequency. To manage Méniére's disease, your doctor may suggest:
- Making dietary changes, such as reducing salt intake, and avoiding alcohol and caffeine
- Avoiding tobacco use, including smoking
- Taking diuretic medications to alleviate pressure buildup from inner ear fluid
- Having surgery on the ear
- Starting medications to manage allergies and increase blood flow
Since you may not always be able to prevent an attack of Ménière’s disease, you can try some steps to alleviate discomfort and try to get symptoms to subside:
- Lie down and rest — avoid moving quickly or suddenly as that can make you feel worse.
- Get someone to help you if you have to walk somewhere.
- Surround yourself with a quiet, peaceful environment — no bright lights, television, reading, or any other stimulus.
Your doctor may also recommend wearing a hearing aid if you experience significant hearing loss following an attack of Méniére's disease.
Video: Can Meniere's disease go away ? | Best Health FAQ Channel
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