Meniere's Disease

Meniere's disease

What is Meniere's disease?

Meniere's disease is a disease of the inner ear, which is characterised by attacks of dizziness, nausea, vomiting, deafness and a buzzing in the ears (tinnitus). These symptoms can arise suddenly and without warning. The disease got its name from a French doctor called Prosper Meniere, who first described the condition.

What causes it?

The inner ear contains a fluid known as endolymph. The pressure of this fluid in the inner ear remains constant for most of us. In the case of Meniere's disease the fluid pressure suddenly changes. It is not known exactly what causes it to change, although stress has been identified as one of the factors, which can bring on an attack.

"Meniere's disease is a disease of the inner ear."

What are the symptoms?

Prosper Meniere described the symptoms of Meniere's disease as a sudden attack of:

  • dizziness and a sensation that the world is spinning around (similar to the symptoms of vertigo)
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • deafness and a buzzing or ringing noise in the ears (tinnitus)

The most troublesome aspect of Meniere's disease is that an attack can happen out of the blue, with no warning signs. An attack can last up to twelve hours and the sufferer may have to take to the bed and lie down until it subsides.

How is it detected?

The diagnosis of Meniere's disease is based on the history of the attacks and associated pattern of symptoms. Investigations may be performed but these will usually be performed to exclude other conditions.

Can it be cured?

Medication is available to ease the symptoms in an established attack. The medication helps to alleviate the nausea, vomiting and dizziness. If attacks are occurring very frequently and are becoming increasingly disruptive it is possible to prescribe long term daily medication to prevent attacks.

It is suggested that reducing the amount of salt in the diet and also reducing the intake of tea and coffee may be helpful in preventing attacks.

In severe cases of Meniere's disease, where quality of life is severely disrupted, surgery may be considered as an option. However, this is very much a treatment of last resort and is not undertaken lightly.

What is the prognosis?

There is no typical pattern to Meniere's disease. Sufferers can be affected to a variable degree. The tendency over time is for attacks to gradually reduce both in intensity and frequency of occurrence. Unfortunately some sufferers may be left with residual deafness even after the attacks have subsided.

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