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Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

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Ménière's disease


* Not a rare disease

Other Names for this Disease

  • Meniere disease
  • Meniere's disease
See Disclaimer regarding information on this site. Some links on this page may take you to organizations outside of the National Institutes of Health.

Your Question

I would like to obtain information about Ménière's disease. Can you tell me more about its cause, effects, symptoms, and treatments? 

Our Answer

We have identified the following information that we hope you find helpful. If you still have questions, please contact us.

What is Ménière's disease?

Ménière's disease is an abnormality of the inner ear. Signs and symptoms may include disabling vertigo or severe dizziness lasting from minutes to hours; tinnitus or a roaring sound in the ears; fluctuating hearing loss; and the sensation of pressure or pain in the affected ear. A small percentage people have drop attacks, also called spells of Tumarkin.[1] The disorder usually affects only one ear and is a common cause of hearing loss.[2] Some people develop symptoms in both ears many years after their initial diagnosis.[3] The exact cause of Ménière's disease is unknown, but the symptoms are thought to be associated with a change in fluid volume within a portion of the inner ear known as the labyrinth.[2][4] Treatment may include medications or surgery depending on the severity of the condition.[5]
Last updated: 3/12/2013

What causes Ménière's disease?

The underlying cause of Ménière's disease remains unknown, although it probably results from a combination of environmental and genetic factors.[4][6][7] Possible contributing factors that have been investigated include viral infections, trauma to the middle ear, middle ear infection (otitis media), head injury, a hereditary predisposition, syphilis, allergies, abnormal immune system responses, migraines and noise pollution.[4][7][6]

The symptoms of Ménière's disease have been thought to be related to changes in fluid volume in the inner ear, which contains structures necessary for normal hearing and balance. Changes in fluid volume may disrupt signals sent from the inner ear to the brain, or may lead to tears or ruptures of the membraneous structures that affect hearing and balance.[7][8] More recently, research has shown that excessive fluid retention (hydrops) is not always associated with Meniere's disease and may not be the ultimate cause of its symptoms.[8]

More detailed information about the causes of the symptoms associated with Ménière's disease are available on NIDCD's Web site and can be viewed here.

Last updated: 3/12/2013

What are the signs and symptoms of Ménière's disease?

The symptoms of Ménière's disease typically occur suddenly and can arise daily, or as infrequently as once a year. Vertigo, often the most debilitating symptom of Ménière's disease, typically involves a whirling dizziness that forces the affected individual to lie down. Vertigo attacks can lead to severe nausea, vomiting, and sweating and often come with little or no warning.[2]

Some individuals with Ménière's disease have attacks that start with tinnitus (ear noises), a loss of hearing, or a full feeling or pressure in the affected ear. It is important to remember that all of these symptoms are unpredictable. Typically, the attack is characterized by a combination of vertigo, tinnitus, and hearing loss lasting several hours. People experience these discomforts at varying frequencies, durations, and intensities. Some may feel slight vertigo a few times a year. Others may be occasionally disturbed by intense, uncontrollable tinnitus while sleeping. Ménière's disease sufferers may also notice a hearing loss and feel unsteady all day long for prolonged periods. Other occasional symptoms of Ménière's disease include headaches, abdominal discomfort, and diarrhea. A person's hearing tends to recover between attacks but over time becomes worse.[2]

Meniere's disease usually starts confined to one ear but it may extend to involve both ears over time. In most cases, a progressive hearing loss occurs in the affected ear(s). A low-frequency sensorineural pattern is commonly found initially, but as time goes on, it usually changes into either a flat loss or a peaked pattern. Although an acute attack can be incapacitating, the disease itself is not fatal.[6]

Last updated: 3/12/2013

How is Ménière's disease diagnosed?

The hallmark of Ménière's disease is the fluctuation, waxing and waning of symptoms.[3]  Proper diagnosis of Ménière's disease entails several procedures, including a medical history interview; a physical examination; hearing and balance tests; and medical imaging with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Accurate measurement and characterization of hearing loss are of critical importance in the diagnosis of Ménière's disease.[2]

Through the use of several types of hearing tests, physicians can characterize hearing loss as being sensory (arising from the inner ear) or neural (arising from the hearing nerve). Recording the auditory brain stem response, which measures electrical activity in the hearing nerve and brain stem, is useful in differentiating between these two types of hearing loss. Electrocochleography, recording the electrical activity of the inner ear in response to sound, helps confirm the diagnosis.[2]

To test the vestibular or balance system, physicians irrigate the ears with warm and cool water or air. This procedure, known as caloric testing, results in nystagmus, rapid eye movements that can help a physician analyze a balance disorder. Since tumor growth can produce symptoms similar to Ménière's disease, an MRI is a useful test to determine whether a tumor is causing the patient's vertigo and hearing loss.[2]

Last updated: 3/12/2013

How might Ménière's disease be treated?

At the present time there is no cure for Ménière's disease, but there are several safe and effective medical and surgical therapies that are available to help individuals cope with the symptoms.[6][3] The symptoms of the disease are often controlled successfully by reducing the body’s retention of fluids through dietary changes (such as a low-salt or salt-free diet and no caffeine or alcohol).[2] Medications such as antihistamines, anticholinergics, and diuretics may lower endolymphatic pressure by reducing the amount of endolymphatic fluid.[4] Eliminating tobacco use and reducing stress levels may also help lessen the severity of symptoms.[2]

Symptoms such as dizziness, vertigo, and associated nausea and vomiting may respond to sedative/hypnotics, benzodiazepines like diazepam and anti-emetics.[4]

Different surgical procedures are an option for individuals with persistent, debilitating vertigo. Labyrinthectomy (removal of the inner ear sense organ) can effectively control vertigo, but sacrifices hearing and is reserved for patients with nonfunctional hearing in the affected ear. Vestibular neurectomy, selectively severing a nerve from the affected inner ear organ, usually controls the vertigo while preserving hearing but carries surgical risks. Recently, the administration of the ototoxic antibiotic gentamycin directly into the middle ear space has gained popularity worldwide for the control of vertigo associated with Ménière's disease.[2]

An article published in the journal Lancet in August 2008, written by Sajjadi and Paparella, reviews treatment options and strategies for individuals with Ménière's disease. Click here to view the abstract of this article. To obtain the complete article, the NLM Web site has a page for locating libraries in your area that can provide direct access to journals (print or online) or where you can get articles through interlibrary loan and Loansome Doc (an NLM document-ordering service). Click on NLM Web site to access this page or go to the following link: You can also contact the NLM toll-free at 888-346-3656 to locate libraries in your area.

Last updated: 3/12/2013

Other Names for this Disease
  • Meniere disease
  • Meniere's disease
See Disclaimer regarding information on this site. Some links on this page may take you to organizations outside of the National Institutes of Health.