Ménière's (say "men-YEERS") disease is an inner ear problem that affects your hearing and balance. It normally occurs in only one ear at a time. But over time, it develops in the other ear in up to half of those who have it.
The disease usually occurs in people ages 40 to 60, but anyone can have it.
The cause of Ménière's disease is not known. But it may be related to a fluid called endolymph in the inner ear. In people with Ménière's disease, too much of this fluid builds up. This creates pressure in the parts of your inner ear that control balance. Experts aren't sure why this fluid builds up. It may be that your body produces too much of the fluid. Or maybe the fluid doesn't drain as it should from the inner ear. Or it may be both.
It's hard to predict who will get Ménière's disease. But your risk may be higher than normal if you have:
Ménière's disease can cause symptoms that come on quickly and last from hours to days. During an attack, you may have:
Most people have repeated attacks over a period of years. Attacks usually happen more often during the first few years of the disease and then come less often after that.
In some cases, each attack damages the inner ear. Over time your inner ear may become so badly damaged that it no longer works as it should. Then the attacks may stop, but you may be left with:
A few people with Ménière's disease have "drop attacks." A drop attack is a sudden fall while you stand or walk. It occurs without warning. It may feel like you are suddenly being pushed to the ground. People who have these attacks don't pass out, and they recover within seconds or minutes.
See a doctor right away if you think you have Ménière's disease. Prompt diagnosis and treatment may reduce both the discomfort of the attacks and your risk of hearing loss.
To diagnose the disease, your doctor will do a physical exam that includes checking your ears, eyes, and nervous system. The doctor will also ask questions about your past health and your symptoms, such as:
Your doctor may also do tests to confirm a diagnosis of Ménière's. These tests may include:
Ménière's disease can't be cured. But your doctor can prescribe treatment to help control your symptoms and reduce how often you have attacks.
Your doctor may prescribe a diuretic medicine. Diuretics help rid your body of excess fluid, so they may help prevent the buildup of fluid in your inner ear. And that may mean you have fewer attacks.
Your doctor may also prescribe medicines to use when you have an attack, such as:
If symptoms are severe and don't respond to medicine, your doctor may suggest another treatment, such as surgery to reduce the fluid or pressure in the inner ear. The goal is to get rid of your symptoms while saving as much of your hearing as possible.
In rare cases of severe, lasting Ménière's disease, doctors may suggest a treatment to destroy the balance center in the inner ear (labyrinth), which can prevent vertigo. Options include:
These treatments can cause permanent hearing loss, so they are usually done only as a last resort.
Ménière's can be hard to manage and tough to live with. But there are some things you can do that may help reduce the number of attacks you have:
To reduce your symptoms when you have an attack:
You can also take steps to help protect yourself when you have attacks:
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