MÃ©niÃ¨re's disease is a disorder of the inner ear that causes episodes of vertigo, tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ear) and fluctuating hearing loss. A MÃ©niÃ¨re's episode generally involves severe vertigo. The vertigo consists of dramatic and debilitating attacks, during which the patient feels that either she or the room is moving or spinning. These attacks may be so severe that the patient cannot stand and often has nausea, retching, and vomiting. Between the acute attacks, most people are free of symptoms or note only mild imbalance and tinnitus. The disease itself is not fatal, but in most cases a progressive hearing loss occurs in the affected ear(s).
The exact cause of MÃ©niÃ¨re's disease is not known. It is believed to involve an increase of fluid in the labyrinth that puts pressure on the membrane of the labyrinth wall and affects both balance and hearing.
In 1861, French physician Prosper MÃ©niÃ¨re described the condition that now bears his name. Historically, accountants, dentists, otolaryngologists, and watchmakers - people who do fine, meticulous work that requires great concentration and control of the hands for long periods of time_are more prone than others to develop this condition. In fact, it was originally called watch-maker's disease.
In 75 percent of the cases, MÃ©niÃ¨re's disease is confined to one ear, while in the other 25 percent, both ears are involved. The attacks vary considerably from one patient to another and from episode to episode. The average attack lasts two to four hours. After a severe attack, most people find that they are extremely exhausted and must sleep for several hours. In some people, MÃ©niÃ¨re's episodes may occur in clusters; that is, several attacks may occur within a short time. In other cases, weeks, months, or even years may pass between episodes.