In 1861 the French physician Prosper Ménière theorized that attacks of vertigo, ringing in the ear (tinnitus) and hearing loss came from the inner ear rather than from the brain, as was generally believed at the time. Once this idea was accepted, the name of Dr. Prosper Ménière began its long association with this inner ear disease and with inner ear balance disorders in general.
Ménière’s disease is a chronic, incurable vestibular (inner ear) disorder defined in 1995 by the Committee on Hearing and Equilibrium of the American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery as “the idiopathic syndrome of endolymphatic hydrops.” In plain language, this means that Ménière’s disease, a form of endolymphatic hydrops, produces a recurring set of symptoms as a result of abnormally large amounts of a fluid called endolymph collecting in the inner ear.
Ménière’s disease can develop at any age, but it is more likely to happen to adults between 40 and 60 years of age. The exact number of people with Ménière’s disease is difficult to measure accurately because no official reporting system exists. Numbers used by researchers differ from one report to the next and from one country to the next. The National Institutes of Health estimates that about 615,000 people in the U.S. have Ménière’s disease and that 45,500 new cases re-diagnosed each year.
The exact cause and reason why Ménière’s disease starts is not yet known. Many theories have been proposed over the years. They include: circulation problems, viral infection, allergies, an autoimmune reaction, migraine, and the possibility of a genetic connection.
Experts aren’t sure what generates the symptoms of an acute attack of Ménière’s disease. The leading theory is that they result from increased pressure of an abnormally large amount of endolymph in the inner ear and/or from the presence of potassium in an area of the inner ear where it doesn’t belong. These conditions may be due to breaks in the membrane separating endolymph from the other inner ear fluid, perilymph. Some people with Ménière’s disease find that certain events and situations, sometimes called triggers, can set off attacks. These triggers include stress, overwork, fatigue, emotional distress, additional illnesses, pressure changes, certain foods, and too much salt in the diet.
Common symptoms of a Ménière’s disease attack do not reflect the entire picture of the disorder, because symptoms vary before, during, between, and after attacks, and also during the late-stage of Ménière’s disease. Oncoming attacks are often preceded by an “aura,” or the specific set of warning symptoms, listed below. Paying attention to these warning symptoms can allow a person to move to a safe or more comfortable situation before an attack. Common symptoms include:
- balance disturbance
- dizziness, lightheadedness
- headache, increased ear pressure
- hearing loss or tinnitus increase
- sound sensitivity
- vague feeling of uneasiness
An excellent link to learn more about Meniere’s is: