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Ménière’s disease, or Ménière spectrum disorder, is a rare, long-term, progressive condition which affects the inner ear and may cause hearing loss. The condition can strike at any age, although it’s most common in people aged between 40 and 60 years old.
The condition usually only affects one ear, but almost half of patients may also develop Ménière’s disease in the other ear.
The cause of Ménière’s disease is 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.
The symptoms of Ménière’s disease include:
The severity and frequency of symptoms varies between patients and can fluctuate over time. An attack can last two to three hours but can take as long as one or two days to disappear completely. It can be unpredictable and distressing as the time between onsets can last from a few days to several years.
As the disease progresses, 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.
You should see your GP if you have symptoms that affect your quality of life.
There’s no single test that gives a reliable Ménière's disease diagnosis. If the causes of your symptoms aren’t obvious, your GP can refer you to one of our Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT) Consultants for further tests. These may include allergy tests, blood tests or a further examination to eliminate other conditions such as sinusitis or nasal polyps which involves looking inside your nose with an endoscope.
Other tests include a nasal inspiratory flow test (to measure the airflow of your breathing) or a computed tomography (CT) scan. Once other causes have been excluded then a diagnosis of Ménière’s disease can be confirmed.
Ménière’s disease treatment is mainly focused on minimising and controlling your symptoms, including hearing loss, tinnitus, vertigo and a feeling of pressure deep inside the ear.
Your ENT Consultant or GP may prescribe medicines called betahistines, you may need to consider a hearing aid if you suffer with hearing loss and changes to your diet are also thought to help manage symptoms.