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The symptoms of Meniere’s disease

Classic symptoms

Classic symptoms of Meniere’s disease are:

  • vertigo (dizziness)
  • nausea and/or vomiting, possibly diarrhoea
  • fluctuating hearing loss
  • tinnitus
  • a feeling of pressure or fullness in the ear

These symptoms may not occur all at once. As Meniere’s disease progresses, the mix, severity and duration of symptoms tends to change (see 'Stages of Meniere’s Disease').

Especially in the earlier stages, you can’t predict how often attacks of symptoms will occur, how severe they will be or how long they will last. Attacks tend to occur in clusters with periods of remission. Symptoms can lessen or disappear for weeks, even years, but will generally return.

Vertigo

Typical characteristics of vertigo:

  • Vertigo creates a sensation of spinning - for example the whole room seems to be spinning around you.
  • Vertigo attacks can last from 10 minutes to several hours.
  • The spinning/dizziness worsens with head movements.
  • Feelings of nausea occur (like sea sickness!). You may also experience sweating.
  • The dizziness can make you stagger or fall.
  • Vomiting and/or loss of bowel control may occur when vertigo is severe.
  • Dizziness occasionally occurs unexpectedly and is not provoked by any particular head movement. You may suffer a sudden loss of balance and fall to the ground without warning.
  • Often there are warning signs that you are about to experience an attack of vertigo. For example:
    - unsteadiness when moving rapidly
    - changes to any tinnitus (ringing noise in the ear) you may have
    - a full feeling inside the ear
    - a distortion in hearing

Hearing loss or muffled hearing

Meniere’s can affect hearing in the following ways:

  • You may not be able to hear lower sound frequencies clearly. This symptom is useful in diagnosing Meniere’s as it differs from the high frequency loss associated with both noise induced hearing loss and hearing loss due to ageing.
  • You may experience hypersensitivity to loud sound, which can occasionally be painful in noisy surroundings.
  • You may experience tone deafness.
  • The pitch of sound in the affected ear can move by 1/3 to 1/2 a note. Excess fluid in the ear alters the way sound waves enter the inner ear.
  • Hearing changes are measurable.   

Tinnitus

Tinnitus refers to noises in the ear or head, which are not associated with any external sound. Tinnitus is a symptom of a malfunction in the auditory (hearing) system. Common features of tinnitus related to Meniere’s:

  • People describe the noise as roaring, ringing, buzzing, hissing, whistling, cicada like noises – or a combination of these sounds. Tinnitus can be continuous, unremitting, and distressing for people with Meniere’s.
  • Tinnitus levels often increase and take on a roaring quality before an attack of vertigo.
  • The character of the tinnitus can change during an attack of vertigo.

Fullness in the ear

You may experience a feeling of fullness, pressure or blockage in the affected ear. This results from a build up of fluid in the inner ear. The feeling often increases before and during an attack of vertigo.

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Last Updated February 2014