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Meniere's disease

Ménière's disease is a disease of the inner ear. It causes severe dizziness (vertigo), ringing in the ears (tinnitus), deafness and a feeling of congestion in the ear. Ménière's disease usually affects only one ear. 

The cause of Ménière's disease is not known, but scientists reportedly believe it’s caused by changes in the fluid in the tubes of the inner ear. It is not known why this fluid builds up; it may be that your body produces too much or it doesn't drain from the inner ear. 

Risk factors for Ménière's disease include:

It can occur at any age, but it usually starts between the ages of 20 and 50. 

Ménière's disease is often divided into early, middle and late stages but its progression varies between different people. Many people with Ménière's disease will go into remission within a few years after their diagnosis.

What are its symptoms?

The symptoms of Ménière's disease vary from person to person. They can occur without warning and at irregular intervals.

Symptoms can include:

  • Vertigo 
  • Loss of hearing 
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ear) in the affected ear
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of balance
  • Headache
  • Nausea, vomiting and sweating 

How is it diagnosed? 

There's no single test for Ménière's disease, and it can be difficult to distinguish from other conditions with similar symptoms. Issues with the brain, such as multiple sclerosis or a brain tumour, can cause symptoms similar to Meniere’s disease. 

Your doctor will order testing to examine your balance and hearing and to rule out other causes of your symptoms. These include:

  • A hearing test 
  • Balance tests

Your doctor may also order tests to rule out other problems. These include a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or a computerised tomography (CT) scan to assess possible problems with your brain.

What are your treatment options? 

There is no known cure for Ménière's but there are treatments to control your symptoms. 

A diuretic medicine may help rid your body of excess fluid, so they may help prevent the buildup of fluid in your inner ear. This means fewer attacks.

Your doctor may also prescribe medicines to use when you have an attack, such as:

  • Medicines that reduce the vertigo. These include antihistamines and sedatives.
  • Medicines called antiemetics that reduce nausea and vomiting.

If symptoms are severe and don't respond to medicine, your doctor may suggest surgery to reduce the fluid or pressure in the inner ear. The goal is to get rid of your symptoms while saving as much of your hearing as possible. 

Can it be prevented? 

There is no way to prevent Ménière disease, but you can take preventive measures to avoid or minimise attacks and symptoms.

Changing your diet may help to reduce the amount of fluid in the inner ear and ease symptoms. Foods to avoid include:

  • Salt
  • Caffeine
  • Chocolate
  • Alcohol
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)

To reduce your symptoms when you have an attack, try the following:

  • Lie down and hold your head very still until the attack goes away
  • Take your medicines for vertigo and nausea as soon as prescribed

There are also remedies to protect yourself when you have attacks:

  • Do exercises to improve your balance.
  • Make changes to reduce your risk of injury during a vertigo attack. For example, install grab bars in your bathroom and don't drive during an attack.
The accuracy of this information was checked and approved by physician Dr Thomas Blake in July 2016