What is Ménière's disease?

Ménière's disease

Ménière's disorder is a long-term, usually progressive condition that affects both the balance and hearing parts of the inner ear. 

What is Ménière's disease?

Discovered in 1861 by Doctor Prosper Ménière, Ménière's disorder, although not life threatening, it is an active disease that often worsens over time. The disease is very stressful because it is not possible to predict when it will next occur. It can appear after a few days and weeks or even years. It can impair even significantly reduce one's quality of life, since there is a constant fear of new attacks. Stress also favors new seizures. Those affected withdraw more and more; private life and leisure activities can suffer.


The Symptoms of Ménière's Disease

Ménière's disease can only be detected when the first symptoms appear. If you think you may have symptoms of Ménière's, one of the warning signs of an upcoming 'attack' is increased tinnitus. The ringing in the ears can make you dizzy and can vary in severity. The sounds can be perceived as beeps, noises or humming. Incidents of vertigo can also take place, when the sufferer feels like the environment around them is spinning very quickly. This feeling can last briefly or for days.

Unilateral hearing loss usually occurs, which can spread to the second ear in the course of the disease. The patient can first feel they have blocked ears before suddenly hearing worse in one ear. The deep tones are particularly affected, and the language sounds particularly distorted. The more advanced the disease, the longer and more severe the hearing loss. A hearing aid can help here, however the intensity varies and permanent hearing loss can occur.

The signs of Ménière's disease are the same in patients of all ages. Other symptoms of Ménière's disease include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Paleness and sweating
  • Flickering eye movements
  • Falling over due to dizziness
  • Anxiety disorders and depression

These attacks can typically last for two to three hours at a time, it can sometimes take a few days for the symptoms to disappear before you start to feel normal again.

Who is affected?

This condition affects roughly one in 1,500 people, Ménière's is not a common condition, but it can develop at any age and affects both genders equally. It can also be linked to family history, with around 7-10% of sufferers sharing the disease with a close relative. In most cases it affects only one ear and can occur at any age, but it usually begins between the ages of 20 and 50. It also tends to have a fluctuating trend, with phases of acute symptoms which are followed by phases of remission.

Certain sufferers may experience particular complications, for example those with professions which rely on the sense of balance have to be temporarily interrupted, such as working on scaffolding, or as a diver, pilot or bus driver.

The Causes of Ménière's Disease

Although the cause of Ménière's disorder is currently unknown, it is thought to be linked to a problem with inner ear pressure, particularly involving the fluid that is inside, known as the endolymph, which is used to bathe the sensory receptors of the ear. This fluid is in the channel-like system (cochlea) of the inner ear. The cochlea plays an essential role in the transmission of sound signals to the brain. The vestibule, another organ in the inner ear which ensures balance, is also filled with the liquid. With Ménière's disease, the fluid and the pressure inside increase, preventing proper transmission of sounds and balance signals to the brain. It is believed that this causes hearing loss and ringing in the ears. However, it has not been clearly researched how the liquid is overproduced.

Doctors also suspect that Ménière's disease can also be caused by a virus, which ignites the inner ear. The inner ear is located close to the organ of balance, and its inflammation can cause dizziness. It should be noted that dizziness can also arise from other problems; it does not always have to be due to Ménière's disease; both labyrinthitis and cervical vertigo can also cause it.

Labyrinthitis is a viral or bacterial inflammation of the inner ear characterized by a violent vertigo crisis. A timely diagnosis, followed by a correct antiviral or antibacterial therapy, determines an immediate resolution of the symptoms without consequent results. The difference with other forms of vertigo is given by the frequent presence of a fever, cough, sore throat and generalized malaise whilst tinnitus is almost never present.

In the case of cervical vertigo, there is often the sensation of rotating with the body (subjective vertigo). The duration of the crisis is variable and is accompanied by a slight but constant feeling of "instability" and, often, pain in the dorsal column, nausea and headache. The cause is due to the strong tension of the cervical muscles, which make the microcirculation of some brain areas more difficult. This type of vertigo benefits from rest and lying down, as the muscles are in a relaxed position.

It is strongly recommended to consult a family doctor or an ear, nose and throat doctor (ENT doctor) for the symptoms mentioned. Other possible causes which are not supported by studies include:

  • allergies
  • hereditary factors
  • immunodeficiency
  • migraines
  • head injuries
  • internal ear or upper airway infections

The stages of the disease

The disease can be divided into early, middle and late stages, tracking a path that over time, normally sees a decrease in attack frequency, but a steady increase in hearing loss and often in tinnitus as well. However, the progression of the condition varies from case-to-case and you may not pass through all three phases.

The Treatment of Ménière's Disease

Here at Amplifon our team of expert Audiologists can help assess the extent of your hearing loss, but if you also experience vertigo and/or tinnitus, you should consult your GP. If your doctor suspects that you may have Ménière's disorder, it will either be treated with medication or you will be referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT), who will be able to carry out relevant tests and scans before prescribing the relevant treatment and next steps. Learn more about the range of Ménière's disease treatments on our dedicated page.

The Ménière's Society also provides support and authoritative information about the disease, much of it written by medical professionals and clinical researchers. The society can also put you in touch with other people who have been diagnosed with the condition, which may be a comfort to you or your friends and family.

Hearing aids for Ménière's syndrome

Hearing aids can be a valuable aid in the case of mild to moderate hearing loss due to the presence of Meniere's Syndrome. The use of hearing aids, however, involves some difficulties. However, the advantages prevail: the hearing capacity reduced by the disease improves significantly thanks to the hearing aid. In addition to digital hearing aids, other amplified devices can also help in this case, such as amplified headphones. Therefore, we recommend that people with Ménière's syndrome wear hearing aids and protect their hearing in noisy situations with specially adapted hearing protectors

Get support and advice

Book a free hearing test

Book now

Test your hearing online

Take the test

Find your nearest store

Find a store