Symptoms of Ménière's disease
The symptoms of Ménière's disease vary from person to person. They often begin as sudden attacks, lasting for a few hours.
Some people may experience several attacks each week or they may be separated by weeks, months or years.
See your GP if you experience any of the symptoms of Ménière's disease. This is so they can try to identify the problem and, if necessary, refer you to a specialist.
The main symptoms of Ménière's disease are:
- vertigo – the sensation that you, or the environment around you, is moving or spinning
- tinnitus – hearing sounds from inside your body, rather than from an outside source
- hearing loss, with a particular difficulty hearing deep or low sounds
- a sense of pressure or fullness deep inside the ear
These symptoms usually only affect one ear at first, but both ears often become affected over time.
How Ménière's disease progresses
Ménière's disease often has different stages. Over two thirds of those affected will stop having symptoms after a period of five to ten years.
The vertigo attacks may come and go and become less severe over time. It's common to have a loss of balance, or experience dizziness, before or after these attacks. There will be periods of varying hearing loss.
During the later stages, the episodes of vertigo tend to occur less and sometimes stop altogether over time.
Who is affected
Ménière's disease is a rare disorder. It most commonly affects people aged 20 to 60.
It's thought to be slightly more common in women than men.
Causes of Ménière's disease
The exact cause of Ménière's disease is unknown but it's thought to be caused by a problem with pressure deep inside the ear.
Although the exact cause is unknown, the following factors may increase the risk of developing the condition:
- allergy (for example food allergy)
- autoimmunity – when your immune system attacks your own tissues and organs by mistake
- genetic (inherited) factors – for example, if you have a family history of the condition
- a chemical imbalance in the fluid in your inner ear – as a result of too little or too much sodium or potassium in your body
- a problem with the blood vessels – there's a link between Ménière's disease and migraines, which are thought to be caused by the narrowing and widening of blood vessels
- some viral infections – such as meningitis
How Ménière's disease is treated
Treatments for Ménière's disease can usually help people control their symptoms. Current treatments aren't able to cure the condition.
Possible treatments include:
- medicines to treat the symptoms and prevent attacks
- changes to your eating habits, such as a low-salt diet (though evidence of effectiveness is limited)
- balance training (vestibular rehabilitation)
- relaxation techniques
- surgery may be considered, in more severe cases
Living with Ménière's disease
Living with Ménière's disease can be difficult and frustrating. Your balance and hearing may be significantly affected during an attack.
The unpredictable nature of the condition means there are some safety issues to consider.
Situations you may need to avoid include:
- climbing ladders or scaffolding
- operating heavy machinery
- driving (see below)
You may also need to make sure that someone is with you most of the time. This is in case you need help during an attack.
Some people with Ménière's disease may also find it affects their mental health.
Your GP can offer advice and support if you're finding it difficult to cope with the effect of Ménière's disease. There are also a number of support groups, such as the Ménière's Society, that can provide help and advice.