Clinically referred to as idiopathic endolymphatic hydrops, Meniere’s disease is an inner ear disorder that causes bouts of vertigo and other unpleasant symptoms. It typically only affects one ear (unilateral), but it may occur in both (bilateral).
Meniere’s Disease Causes
Meniere’s disease is a complex condition with causes that aren’t yet fully understood, although symptoms can be linked to increased fluid levels in the inner ear. Research shows that a combination of factors may lead to this accumulation of inner ear fluid, including:
- A viral infection
- A blockage or anatomic abnormality that hinders fluid drainage from the ear
- A genetic predisposition
- An autoimmune disease
Meniere’s disease most often affects adults in their 40s or 50s, but anyone can develop this condition.
Meniere’s Disease Symptoms
The signs of Meniere’s disease can vary from person to person, although symptoms tend to be intermittent and come and go together. These episodes of symptoms may involve two or more of the following:
- Vertigo attacks that can cause dizziness for a few minutes or a full day
- Hearing loss in the affected ear
- Tinnitus (a ringing, clicking or buzzing in the ears)
- A sensation of fullness or congestion in the inner ear (aural fullness)
Other possible symptoms of Meniere’s disease include:
- Unusual sweating
- Trouble balancing
- Nausea and vomiting
Meniere’s Disease Diagnosis
Because the symptoms of Meniere’s disease are similar to those of other ear conditions, a thorough review of symptoms and multiple tests are necessary to confirm a diagnosis and prescribe appropriate treatment.
Common diagnostic methods include:
- Balance tests, such as electronystagmogram (ENG) testing, which evaluate balance when water or air is inserted into an ear.
- Hearing tests, including speech discrimination tests that gauge the patient’s ability to differentiate one word from another.
- Electrocochleography (ECoG) testing to check for inner ear fluid pressure.
- Imaging scans to rule out other, more serious conditions.
Meniere’s Disease Treatments
There is currently no cure for Meniere’s disease, but there are many ways to help alleviate symptoms and effectively manage this condition. Common treatment approaches for Meniere’s disease include:
- Taking anti-vertigo medications
- Following a low-salt diet
- Receiving intratympanic injection therapy
- Trying vestibular rehabilitation therapy
Rarely, surgery to help ear fluid drain (endolymphatic sac procedure) or remove the balance structures in one ear (labyrinthectomy) may be recommended.