Ménière's Disease is a rare disorder that affects the inner ear. It can cause vertigo, tinnitus, hearing loss, and a feeling of pressure deep inside the ear.
People with Ménière's disease usually experience some or all of these symptoms during sudden attacks, which typically last around two to three hours, although it can take a day or two for the symptoms to disappear completely.
It's worth noting, however, that the symptoms and severity of Ménière's disease vary widely from person to person. Some people may experience frequent attacks of vertigo along with hearing loss, while others may have severe tinnitus with minor vertigo. Other symptoms include sensitivity to sound (hyperacusis) or distorted sound.
The symptoms of Ménière's disease vary from person to person. They often begin as sudden attacks, lasting for a few hours. Some people may experience several attacks each week or they may be separated by weeks, months or even years.
See your GP if you experience any of the symptoms of Ménière's disease, so they can try to identify the problem and refer you to a specialist, if necessary.
The main symptoms of Ménière's disease are:
vertigo – the sensation that you, or the environment around you, is moving or spinning
tinnitus – hearing sounds from inside your body, rather than from an outside source
hearing loss, with a particular difficulty hearing deep or low sounds
a sense of pressure or fullness deep inside the ear
These symptoms usually only affect one ear at first, but both ears often become affected over time.
Ménière's disease is often divided into early, middle and late stages.
However, the progression of Ménière's disease varies between individuals. You may not necessarily pass through each of these stages and the severity of the symptoms may also vary. In general, people experience more attacks during the first few years, and then as the attacks decrease in frequency over time, the hearing loss becomes progressively worse.
The early stage of Ménière's disease consists of sudden and unpredictable attacks of vertigo. These are usually accompanied by nausea, vomiting and dizziness. You may lose some hearing during the attack, and you may experience tinnitus at the same time. Your ear may also feel blocked and uncomfortable, with a sense of fullness. Some people may also experience sensitivity to sound.
Attacks of vertigo at this stage can last from 20 minutes to 24 hours, but usually last around two to three hours. Your hearing and the full sensation in your ear usually returns to normal between attacks.
The middle stage of Ménière's disease consists of continuing attacks of vertigo, with the attacks becoming less severe for some people. However, tinnitus and hearing loss often become worse.
During the middle stage, you may experience some periods of remission (where your symptoms go away), which can last for up to several months. Some people may still experience symptoms of tinnitus, sensitivity to sound or loss of balance between attacks of vertigo.
During the late stage of Ménière's disease, the episodes of vertigo occur far less frequently. There may be months or even several years between attacks or they may stop altogether. However, you may be left with balance problems, and you may be unsteady on your feet, particularly in the dark.
Hearing problems and tinnitus tend to become progressively worse during the late stage of Ménière's disease.
Some or all of the following symptoms may be experienced before an attack:
loss of balance
dizziness and light-headedness
headache and increased ear pressure
increased hearing loss or tinnitus
sensitivity to sound
a feeling of uneasiness
If a person is aware of these warning symptoms, it can allow them to move to a safer or more comfortable situation before an attack.
Vertigo is one of the most common and noticeable symptoms of Ménière's disease.
As well as a sensation of spinning, you may also experience additional symptoms during an attack of vertigo, such as dizziness, feeling or being sick, and problems with balance. You may have difficulty standing or walking. Occasionally, you may have "drop attacks", where you suddenly fall to the ground.
During a severe attack, you may also experience sweating, diarrhoea and rapid or irregular heartbeats.
Tinnitus is usually more noticeable when you're tired or when it's quiet, as there's less background noise to distract you from sounds coming from inside your body.
Examples of sounds you may hear include buzzing, humming, grinding, hissing and whistling.
Tinnitus is a term that describes any sound a person can hear from inside their body rather than from an outside source.
Although tinnitus is often described as 'ringing in the ears', several sounds can be heard including:
What causes tinnitus?
A build-up of earwax, a middle ear infection or a problem with your inner ear (such as Ménière's disease) can sometimes be responsible for the sounds of tinnitus.
It's important to establish what triggers your tinnitus, whether there are particular times of the day when it's more noticeable, and whether there's anything that makes it better or worse.
For example, some people find their tinnitus is worse when they're stressed or anxious and improves when they're calm and relaxed.
Occasionally, temporary tinnitus can be the result of a blow to the head or a sudden, loud noise, such as an explosion or gunfire.
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