The two questions that we are asked the most are - "What is Meniere's
disease?" and "Why do I have this?" We will help you to understand the
"What is this horrible thing?" in this webpage. To help answer the question
of "Why do I have this?" we have put some links to other web pages at the
bottom of this page.
So, What is Meniere's disease? It is the name of a disorder or condition
of the inner ear. No one knows its cause, but we do recognize that there
are major symptoms:
These are very debilitating and therefore, they are the focus of most
of the medical research and treatments.
Meniere's disease has to do with fluid and balance in the
(semi-circular) canals of the inner ear
Our balance and sense of position (laying down, standing upright) is
governed by these fluid-filled canals called semicircular canals, located
here. When your head moves, endolymph (fluid) moves, causing nerve receptors
in the membranous labyrinth in the inner ear to send signals to the brain
about the body's motion. An increase in endolymph, however, can cause the
membranous labyrinth to balloon or dilate, a condition known as
Experts think that a rupture of the membranous labyrinth allows the
endolymph to mix with perilymph, (another inner ear fluid) that occupies the
space between the membranous labyrinth and the bony inner ear. This mixing,
scientists believe, can cause the symptoms of Meniere's disease. The inner
ear is responsible for the levels, filtration, and excretion of fluids in
this area of the ear. (This is a VERY simplistic explanation of what
In a healthy ear, a message is triggered from the inner ear to the brain,
letting the brain know that there is some sort of imbalance. The brain sends
a return message asking the inner ears' nerve cells to correct this
Our cells automatically carry out this message or command. It is our
body's intention to be "in balance" at all times, so it adjusts for any
In Meniere's Disease these filtration and excretion seems to be hindered
or impaired. So any message is either not going to be received correctly nor
will it be interpreted and returned appropriately. This leads to swelling.
And that in turn creates an imbalance in the fluctuation of fluid levels
within the inner ear. (Again a simplistic interpretation.)
Although it can be very unpleasant, Meniere's disease is
not something that's contagious and it isn't fatal.
However, it's a "chronic" problem, which means that it lasts a long time.
People with Meniere's disease don't have symptoms all the time. When
symptoms occur, it's called an "attack." Attacks may happen often, or only
sometimes. And they are totally without warning! Attacks can last from
minutes to hours, but rarely last a full day. They can occur during the day
or happen in the night. However, because of the exhaustion that follows one
of these attacks, the person is usually "out of circulation" for the rest of
the day, maybe longer.
Meniere's disease usually occurs in only one ear. It affects both ears in
only about 30% of patients. The major symptoms that cause most of our
difficulty are characterized by abnormal sensation of movement (vertigo),
loss of hearing, and noises or ringing (tinnitus) in one or both ears.
This condition has an affect on the entire family. Not only does the
person have the attack, but the family either has to tiptoe around and be
very still. Frequently they are speaking to a person that can't hear them
very well, either one or both ears. It's very frustrating and tiring.
So the effects are long lasting and pervasive. Because depression is one
of the side effects, many people need additional support. So the effects are
spread throughout the family.
Most of the people afflicted with Meniere's disease are adults, but we
see a few children and younger adults. This is a very discouraging situation
for them. They often miss school or lose their jobs.
Scientists are investigating several possible causes of Meniere's
disease, including environmental factors, such as noise pollution and viral
infections, as well as biological factors such as:
By Karin Henderson - Nurse, Retired.