Like other debilitating illnesses, the symptoms of Ménière's disease vary greatly over time and from person to person. The 'usual' signs will be attacks of vertigo, accompanied by tinnitus, hearing loss, nausea and vomiting. These attacks can last anywhere from a few minutes to 24 hours at a time, although most people with the condition report average attack-times of around two hours.
Feeling a 'fullness' in the ear is also common, as well as hearing loss. Periods between attacks can often be a long as a month or even a year, catching the afflicted by surprise and sometimes leaving you feeling on edge in anticipation of another attack, not knowing when the next one might come.
To aid diagnosis, it can often be helpful to divide the symptoms into three stages. However, it is worth noting that you may not pass through all three stages - mild forms of the disease may stop at stage one, while severe cases may start very suddenly with all the symptoms of stage two or three.
Sporadic attacks of vertigo. During a vertigo attack, you may feel unbalanced or as you - or your environment - is spinning or moving uncontrollably. At this time, there is a variable amount of hearing loss in the affected ear, and an increase in tinnitus. You may often find that the tinnitus comes first, giving you an indication of an upcoming attack.
Vertigo, tinnitus, hearing loss.
While the attacks of vertigo continue with variable remissions, the episodes themselves often become less severe. Periods of imbalance and movement-giddiness will still occur, often as a precursor to an attack. During this phase, permanent hearing loss may also develop, alongside a significant increase in tinnitus.
Hearing loss, balance difficulties, tinnitus.
In the late stage of Ménière's disease, hearing loss increases while attacks of vertigo diminish or even stop completely. You may find that you begin to develop discomfort relating to loudness or even distortion of specific sounds, with significant permanent damage to the balance organ. This creates a feeling of perpetual unsteadiness, particularly when walking in the dark or dancing, as well as hearing difficulties that continue for longer than an attack episode.