The labyrinth is the inner ear structure that plays a role in hearing and balance. Part of the labyrinth is filled with a fluid called endolymph. Continual fluid production and reabsorption maintains the level of endolymph at all times. When you move your head, the fluid moves in the labyrinth. The fluid movement triggers a signal to your brain that lets you know that your body has changed position. This all happens automatically.
CausesMeniere’s disease results when there is too much fluid in the labyrinth. The exact reason for the excess fluid is unknown. The excess fluid stretches membranes in the inner ear and can cause them to rupture. Sodium and potassium, fluids that are usually separated by the membranes, mix and cause inaccurate messages to be sent to the brain. The inaccurate nerve signals contribute to the symptoms of Meniere’s disease.
Vertigo can cause you to feel like the room is moving or spinning. Your balance may feel off and you may have difficulty or be unable to stand and walk. Hearing may decrease, usually in one ear. You may hear unusual sounds in your ear, such as ringing or buzzing. Your ear may feel uncomfortable, like there is a buildup of pressure in the ear. Nausea, vomiting, and significant sweating may occur.
The symptoms of Meniere’s disease can be both disturbing and disabling. Symptoms may interfere with your ability to work and perform daily tasks. Fortunately, there are treatments that can help manage symptoms and decrease the number of episodes.
There is not one specific test to diagnose Meniere’s disease. Some of the more common tests are described below.
More than one type of hearing test may be conducted to identify if your hearing loss is related to an inner ear problem. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans may be used to show the nerves and structures in your ear.
Electronystagmography (ENG) is used to identify nerve damage in the ear. ENG testing uses receptors to measure involuntary eye movements during certain procedures, such as caloric testing. Caloric testing tracks involuntary eye movements that are produced when hot or cold water is placed in the ear.
Reducing the amount of salt that you consume can decrease the amount of fluid in your ears. A diet similar to a low-salt diet that is used for people with high blood pressure is commonly used.
It can be helpful to stop smoking. Smoking can decrease blood flow to the nerves in the inner ear, which does not help the situation. It can be helpful not to consume products that contain caffeine, such as coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate. Caffeine can stimulate the nerves in the inner ear. Regular exercise can be helpful because it increases blood flow.
Medications may be prescribed to help decrease the amount of fluid in your inner ear. Prescription medication can be used to treat the symptoms of vertigo, nausea, or vomiting. Surgery may be necessary if symptoms do not respond to non-surgical treatments or if symptoms are very severe.
There are a few surgical procedures that may be used to reduce symptoms of Meniere’s disease. An endolymphatic sac decompression (ESD) is used to place a valve in the inner ear to help fluid drain. ESD is used to decrease vertigo, but it does not improve hearing. A labyrinthectomy is used to remove the labyrinth and nerve responsible for balance. Rehabilitation follows the surgery to improve balance. Like ESD, labyrinthectomy does not improve hearing.
A vestibular neurectomy is a procedure that can cure vertigo in most cases. It involves making an incision in the nerve responsible to “disconnect” it in the inner ear. This procedure is the preferred surgery if a person still has good hearing. A vestibular neurectomy does not involve the nerves used for hearing and does not decrease hearing.
Am I at RiskAs the exact cause of Meniere’s disease is unknown, specific risk factors have not been identified. Meniere’s disease most frequently develops when people are in their 30’s or early middle age. Meniere’s disease appears to affect men and women equally. The condition rarely occurs in children or older adults.
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The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on February 16, 2022. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit www.iHealthSpot.com.