Meniere's disease is a rare disorder of the inner ear that causes vertigo, dizziness and balance problems. There is no cure, but the symptoms can be managed.
What is Meniere's disease?
People with Meniere’s disease suffer attacks during which they experience severe vertigo (a spinning sensation), balance problems, nausea and vomiting. Attacks usually last between 2 and 4 hours and leave the person feeling exhausted.
Some people have several attacks of Meniere’s disease in a short period of time, while other people only have an attack every few months or years.
Most people have the disease in just one ear. It often leads to progressive hearing loss in the affected ear.
Causes of Meniere's disease
Meniere’s disease is caused by the abnormal build-up of fluid in the inner ear. This affects the cells that are responsible for balance and hearing.
We do not know why this build-up occurs although some cases include a problem with pressure inside the ear, or a chemical imbalance in the fluids inside the ear.
Meniere’s disease is most common in people in their forties and fifties, although it can appear at any age. Some women have found symptoms are worse before their period, and other people link their attacks to stress.
Symptoms of Meniere's disease
Symptoms of Meniere’s disease vary from person to person. During an attack, you might experience early symptoms such as:
- losing your balance
- feeling lightheaded
- a feeling of pressure in the ear
- hearing loss
- sensitivity to sound
- a general feeling of uneasiness
These symptoms then progress to:
- vertigo (a feeling of spinning, dizziness, feeling sick, or suddenly falling to the ground)
- tinnitus (buzzing, humming, grinding, hissing or whistling in your ear)
The disease usually progresses. In the early stages, people generally have sudden, unpredictable attacks of vertigo, along with nausea, vomiting and dizziness. They might lose some hearing, their ear may feel blocked and they might be sensitive to sound.
The attacks may become less severe but the tinnitus and hearing loss may become worse, even in between attacks.
During the late stages of Meniere’s disease, the attacks can become less frequent or stop altogether. However, the person may continue to have balance problems, hearing loss and tinnitus.
Diagnosis of Meniere's disease
If you think you are experiencing the symptoms of Meniere’s disease, you should see your doctor. They will examine you, ask about your symptoms and may refer you for a hearing test or brain scan.
Treatment for Meniere's disease
There is no cure for Meniere’s disease. Treatments aim to control the symptoms.
If you are diagnosed with the condition, you might be given medicines (known as diuretics) to reduce the fluid in your body and take pressure off the inner year so you have fewer attacks.
During an attack, you can use medicine to stop stop you vomiting or feeling nauseous, to control vertigo and to reduce anxiety. Sometimes steroids or anti-histamines can help.
If you experience severe symptoms with Meniere’s disease or frequent attacks, your doctor may suggest referral to an ear, nose and throat surgeon. Some people have surgery to cut the nerve responsible for balance or to drain fluid from the inner ear.
If you experience hearing loss, a hearing aid may help.
Living with Meniere's disease
You can help to prevent attacks by changing your diet to reduce fluid retention. It may be a good idea to restrict how much salt, water, caffeine, chocolate or alcohol you consume. Your healthcare professional may advise you to take nutritional supplements such as ginko biloba, ginger or lipoflavinoids, a supplement found in lemons.
Because Meniere’s disease is unpredictable and can affect your balance and hearing, you may have to change some of your daily activities. You may need to be careful when climbing ladders, swimming or operating heavy machinery. Ask your doctor about driving; you may need to inform your state road traffic authority.
If your attacks are triggered by stress or if you are feeling anxious, join a support group or talk to your doctor about counselling.
Not sure what to do next?
If you are still concerned about your symptoms, why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.
The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self-care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
Last reviewed: January 2018