Meniere’s disease, often called endolymphatic hydrops, is one of the more feared vertigo disorders because it lasts for many years, results in repeated vertigo spells that can be very severe and disabling, and results in permanent hearing loss. It is also frequently overdiagnosed, so many of the people who may have been told that they have Meniere’s disease actually have another cause of vertigo.
There are three symptoms that all occur during the spells: vertigo, hearing loss, and tinnitus, often a loud roaring sound in the ear. When an inner ear goes bad it often causes these symptoms, however, so this triad is not enough to make the diagnosis.
The pattern of the spells is key; in Meniere’s disease, the spells last from 20 minutes to several hours. They come on suddenly, and after a spell ends it may be days, weeks or months before the next spell. There might not be any symptoms during these periods of remission.
It can affect one or both ears, but usually one ear is more severely affected. Most people notice that one ear is ringing loudly during the spells, and so are able to tell which ear is the problem. Over time, the affected ear will lose hearing permanently. If hearing loss does not become permanent over several years, the diagnosis of Meniere’s disease is likely to be wrong.
Balance function in the affected ear also eventually declines. Once both hearing and balance function have been destroyed in the ear, the spells cease. This process may take many years, and during this time the vertigo spells continue. We have ways to stop the spells or put the disease into remission. In the next post, I’ll give you an inside view of what it feels like to have these attacks.