Ménière's disease is a condition that affects the inner ear. It causes attacks of dizziness (vertigo), nausea and vomiting, a feeling of fullness in the ear, hissing and roaring in the ears, and some hearing loss.
The disease comes on without warning. It may come and go over a person's lifetime. It often leaves no lasting symptoms in between bouts, and people with it can live perfectly normal lives.
Between 2 and 6 out of every 1000 people will be affected with the disease. The condition affects men and women, and usually begins between the ages of 20 and 50. Usually only one ear is affected, although 10% to 15% of people with Ménière's disease develop it in both ears.
The cause of Ménière's disease is unknown. The symptoms are believed to be related to having too much fluid in the inner ear. Occasionally, this potassium-rich fluid breaks the inner ear membrane and leaks into the potassium-poor outer fluid. This mixing causes a chemical reaction that paralyses the balance system in the inner ear until the fluid balance becomes normal again.
Dizziness, nausea, vomiting, ear fullness, ringing in the ears, and some hearing loss are all symptoms of an attack of Ménière's disease. A person with this condition usually has one or more attacks a year, which may come alone or in groups. The attacks last from approximately 20 minutes to 24 hours and go away gradually. During a dizzy spell, the person feels like the world is whirling around them. They stagger from side to side and sometimes even fall down. These falling spells are called drop attacks or Tumarkin spells.
If you have Ménière's disease, you may also experience tinnitus, which is a hissing, ringing, or roaring in the affected ear that may continue, change, or disappear. Tinnitus may worsen during, just before, or just after a dizzy spell. People with Ménière's disease also have trouble hearing voices and music properly. Their hearing often comes back between attacks, but they do lose some hearing permanently over time.
While having an attack of Ménière's disease, you may also get a headache, grow pale, sweat, develop a slow pulse, and feel nauseous and vomit.
A person with the condition can go for years without having another attack and sometimes they never experience another attack. Between attacks, the person feels fine. However, the hearing in the affected ear (or ears) often declines gradually over time. Since the dizziness is unpredictable, people with Ménière's disease may be constantly concerned about having a dizzy spell and therefore often avoid driving or operating machinery. If attacks have occurred without warning, your doctor is obliged to advise you against driving.