Meniere's disease is a disorder of the labyrinth in the inner ear that causes vertigo, tinnitus, and hearing problems. The labyrinth is a system of cavities and canals in the inner ear that affects hearing, balance, and eye movement.
The Inner Ear
The cause of Meniere's disease is unknown, but it is thought to be a combination of factors. Possible causes include:
- Rupture in part of the labyrinth, which allows fluid in different compartments to mix
- Scar tissue, which may cause a blockage in the labyrinth
- Inner ear injury
Meniere's disease is more common in adults aged 20-60 years, and in Caucasians. Other factors that may increase your chance of Meniere's disease include:
- Family history
- Viral infection
- Autoimmune disorders
- Barometric pressure change
- Hormonal disorders
- Certain medications, such as antibiotics and chemotherapy agents
- Excess salt in the diet
- Excess noise
Meniere's disease may cause fluctuating symptoms, which may come on suddenly. They typically involve only one ear, but may involve both. Symptoms include:
vertigo, a spinning sensation while standing still. Vertigo may be accompanied by:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Paleness of the skin
- Weakness or falling
- In some cases, headache or diarrhea
- Fluctuating hearing loss
- Ringing in one or both ears—tinnitus
- Feeling of fullness or pressure in the ear
- Poor sense of balance
- A tendency for symptoms to worsen with movement
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. This will include an examination of your ears and a neurologic exam to evaluate for possible nerve damage.
Tests may include:
There is no cure for Meniere's disease. Treatment focuses on managing your symptoms. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options may include one or more of the following:
Dietary and Lifestyle Changes
Dietary changes include:
- Avoid foods that are high in salt and high in sugar
- Avoid caffeine
- Drink adequate fluids
- Reduce alcohol intake
Lifestyle changes include:
- Bed-rest during acute attacks of vertigo
- Promptly begin replacing fluids lost to heat or exercise
- Minimize stress
- Avoid medications that seem to bring on or worsen symptoms
- Consider a hearing aid, if necessary
- Consider masking devices (white noise) to limit the effects of tinnitus
- If you smoke, talk to your doctor about how you can quit
- Take safety measures to avoid falling
Your doctor may suggest specific vestibular exercises. These exercises use a series of eye, head, and body movements to get the body used to moving without dizziness. You may work with a physical therapist to learn these.
Consider working with a therapist or joining a support group. These can help you to cope with your symptoms.
Your doctor may recommend:
- Medications to treat vertigo
- Antiemetics to control nausea
Medications that may improve hearing, control inner ear swelling, or limit overall symptoms, including:
- Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications
- Cortisone drugs for a short time
- Aminoglycoside therapy to permanently destroy the part of the inner ear that deals with balance
Ask your doctor if a Meniett device would be helpful to you. This device provides low-pressure pulses to the middle ear.
Surgical procedures are not always helpful, and include:
- Endolymphatic sac decompression—removal of a portion of inner ear bone and placing a tube in the inner ear to drain excess fluid
- Labyrinthectomy—destruction or removal of the entire inner ear, which controls balance and hearing
- Vestibular nerve section
There are no current guidelines to prevent Meniere's disease. However, to help reduce your risk, avoid:
- High-salt and high-sugar diets
- Excess noise
- Excess alcohol
- Avoid medications that can be toxic to the ear
American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
Meniere's disease. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/menieres-disease.html. Updated March 2014. Accessed August 4, 2015.
Meniere's disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 9, 2015. Accessed August 4, 2015.
Meniere's disease. National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) website. Available at: http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/balance/Pages/meniere.aspx. Updated September 13, 2010. Accessed August 4, 2015.
12/3/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Hillier S, McDonnell M. Vestibular rehabilitation for unilateral peripheral vestibular dysfunction. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;(10):CD005397.
Last reviewed August 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.