Meniere’s disease is a type of sensorineural disorder, or nerve-related disorder of the inner ear, that causes vertigo, tinnitus (sensation of ringing in the ear), hearing loss and a feeling of congestion or fullness in the ear. It is caused by the buildup of excess fluid in the inner ear, which affects the travel of nerve signals.
Meniere’s disease can vary in its severity -- some with the disorder may experience intermittent bouts of dizziness, while others have more frequent or severe spells of vertigo. Hearing loss, too, may come and go with Meniere’s disease, though some patients may experience it permanently.
The condition usually develops in people ages 40-60. In most cases, only one ear is affected, but in about 15% of cases it affects both ears.
Meniere’s disease occurs in the compartments of the inner ear, known collectively as the labyrinth -- aptly named, as the inner ear (even more so than the outer ear) is a complex and bendy arrangement of tubular components. The labyrinth comprises two main structures: the bony labyrinth and the membranous labyrinth.
Within the membranous labyrinth is a fluid known as endolymph that stimulates the receptors of the inner ear’s balance organs. The receptors then send proprioception signals to the body about its position and movement. In Meniere’s disease, the abnormal buildup of fluid interferes with these signals, which can affect a person’s balance in addition to obstructing hearing.
There is no clear understanding as to what causes Meniere’s disease, but because it is often passed down within families, genetics appear to be a common cause. Other possible causes include allergies, viruses, head trauma, loud noise trauma and improper fluid drainage due to a blockage. Meniere’s can be diagnosed through a patient’s description of symptoms, though often doctors will use an MRI or CT scan to rule out other possible causes.
There is no single cure for Meniere’s disease, though a range of recommended treatments. Those include prescription medications like valium to alleviate symptoms when they occur, or potential long term solutions like steroids, dietary and behavioral changes (restricting smoking and salt intake, among other things), cognitive therapy, antibiotic injections and surgery.
About 6 in 10 people with Meniere’s disease get better through time and measures of self-care, though others require surgery.