Ménière’s disease

Introduction

Ménière's disease, named after the French physician, Prosper Ménière, is a rare disorder that affects the inner ear. It can cause vertigo, tinnitus, hearing loss, and aural fullness (feeling of pressure in your ear). See Ménière's disease - symptoms for more information about these symptoms.

Ménière's disease attacks

The symptoms of Ménière's disease usually appear without warning and are called ‘attacks’. The attacks usually last for around 2-3 hours, although following an attack it may take 1-2 days for the symptoms to disappear completely. 

Ménière's disease progresses through different stages. The early stage may consist of between 6-11 attacks a year. In the later stages, there are usually fewer attacks and they eventually stop. However, hearing loss, tinnitus, and balance problems may become constant.

Ménière's disease is thought to be caused by a problem with the pressure in the inner ear. However, this has not yet been proven.

How common is Ménière's disease?

It is difficult to establish how common Ménière's disease is because the diagnosis criteria tend to vary. However, in the UK it is estimated that around one in 1,000 people develop Ménière's disease.

Ménière's disease can occur at any age, but it most commonly affects people who are between 40-60 years of age. Ménière's disease is slightly more common in women than in men, with 30% more women affected.  In 5-7% of cases, there may be a family history of Ménière's disease.

Outlook

In 60-80% of people with Ménière's disease, the symptoms will improve and disappear after 2-8 years. However, some people will be left with permanent hearing loss, tinnitus, or both. In around 40% of people, the hearing loss affects both ears.

A variety of medications are available to treat Ménière's disease. It is estimated that these treatments allow 60-87% of people with Ménière's disease to continue with their normal daily activities. There are also a range of techniques and therapies that can help with the tinnitus and balance problems.

People with Ménière's disease may find that the condition has a significant impact on their emotional health. The unpredictable attacks can cause anxiety, and the hearing loss may lead to depression. There are a number of support groups that can provide assistance. 

Vertigo
Vertigo is the sensation that you or the environment around you is moving or spinning.

Tinnitus
Tinnitus is the medical name for the perception of noise in one ear, both ears or in the head. The noise comes from inside the body rather than an outside source.

Last updated: 04 October 2011

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