Ménière's disease

Ménière’s disease is a long-term, progressive condition affecting the balance and hearing parts of the inner ear. The condition is rare and its cause is unknown.

Meniere’s disease affects the inner ear and may cause hearing loss, tinnitus, vertigo and a feeling of pressure deep inside the ear. The symptoms of Meniere’s disease often last two to three hours but it can be as long as one or two days later that the symptoms disappear completely.

Meniere’s disease can strike at any age, although it is most common in people aged between 40 and 60 years old. However, the condition is rare and its cause is unknown. Sometimes patients can improve their symptoms by changing their diet. For further treatment your GP may refer you to an Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist.

The cause of Ménière’s disease is currently unknown. Several factors are thought to be involved in the development of the condition; for example, increased pressure of fluid in part of the ear and possible allergic reactions causing damage to the inner ear. How these factors are related and how they affect the progress of the disease is unclear.

Symptoms of Ménière’s disease include acute attacks of vertigo (severe dizziness), fluctuating tinnitus, increasing deafness, and a feeling of pressure deep within the ear.

There is great variation in the severity and frequency of symptoms both between patients and over the passage of time. The main symptom is vertigo which causes nausea and vomiting; attacks can last from a few minutes to 24 hours. Other symptoms include tinnitus, hearing loss and a feeling of fullness in the affected ear.

Ménière’s disease is unpredictable and distressing as remission periods between attacks can last from a few days to several years. As the disease progresses the vertigo generally becomes less severe but the tinnitus becomes more prominent and the loss of hearing may worsen. Later still there may be permanent damage to the balance organ in the ear which can lead to significant balance problems, especially in the dark. Ménière’s disease usually only affects one ear, but almost half of patients may also develop the condition in the other ear.

The key symptoms of Ménière's disease are:

  • vertigo (dizziness, a sensation of spinning)
  • tinnitus (hearing sounds in your ear such as buzzing, ringing or humming)
  • hearing loss (particularly of deep or low sounds)
  • a feeling of pressure deep inside the ear

There is no single test that gives a reliable diagnosis of Ménière’s disease. Your consultant will consider the three main symptoms (vertigo, hearing loss and tinnitus) and eliminate any possibility that these are caused by other conditions through blood tests and an MRI scan. Once other causes have been excluded then a diagnosis of Ménière’s disease can be confirmed.

Ménière's disease or dizziness

The treatment of Ménière’s disease is mainly focused on minimising and controlling the symptoms that patients experience, including hearing loss, tinnitus, vertigo and a feeling of pressure deep inside the ear.

What next?

If you are suffering with a suspected condition, you should seek the advice of your doctor who will be able to refer you to Benenden Hospital for diagnosis and treatment.

There are four ways to access treatment at Benenden Hospital which include self-funding, using private medical insurance or your Benenden membership, or through the NHS e-Referral scheme.