What is Meniere’s disease?
Ménière’s disease is a condition of the inner ear affecting balance and hearing. It is thought to be caused by unusually large amounts of a fluid called endolymph creating a build up of pressure in the inner ear.
This pressure can cause the inner ear to send abnormal messages to the brain resulting in dizziness, vomiting and dulled hearing. The exact cause of Ménière’s disease is not known but there may be links to circulation problems, viral infections, allergies, the immune system, migraines, or genetic factors.
The ear is divided into three sections:
- The outer ear consisting of the pinna, ear canal and eardrum
- The middle ear consisting of the ossicles and ear drum
- The inner ear consisting of the cochlea, the auditory (hearing) nerve and the brainPeople who have problems with the outer and middle ear have conductive deafness (e.g. ear infection, hole in the eardrum, otosclerosis). People who have problems with the inner ear have nerve deafness. Nerve deafness can be caused by things such as old age, loud noise or Ménière’s Disease. Ménière’s disease is a disorder of the inner ear that causes balance and hearing symptoms.
Diagram of middle ear (malleus, incus, stapes) & inner ear (cochlea, canals)
In your inner ear is the organ of hearing (cochlea) and inside the cochlea are various chambers – one of which contains a fluid called endolymph. Ménière’s ‘attacks’ are thought to be triggered by too much endolymph causing pressure in the cochlea – the hearing cells and balance cells in the inner ear are damaged during an ‘attack’.
The cause of this pressure is not yet fully understood although there are several possibilities under investigation. The Ménière’s Society states that the disease affects between 1 in 2000 and 1 in 20,000 people. It commonly starts between the ages of 20 and 50 but can occur at all ages and in either sex. There is also thought to be the possibility of a family link to the disease.
Video: Menieres – what happens in the inner ear