Ménière disease

Last revised by Dr Francis Deng on 04 Mar 2021

Ménière disease (or idiopathic endolymphatic hydrops) is an inner ear disorder and as such can affect balance and hearing.

One or both ears can be affected. The chief symptoms are:

  • vertigo (often attacks which can be incapacitating)
  • hearing loss
  • tinnitus
  • a sensation of fullness in the ears
  • Tullio phenomenon occasionally experienced 8

The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Committee on Hearing and Equilibrium set criteria for diagnosing Ménière disease, most recently revised in 1995 1:

  • certain: a definite disease with histopathological confirmation
  • definite: requires two or more definitive episodes of vertigo with a hearing loss plus tinnitus and/or aural fullness
  • probable: only one definitive episode of vertigo and the other symptoms and signs
  • possible: definitive vertigo with no associated hearing loss

Although considered to be idiopathic, there is an association with inner ear effusions and endolymphatic hydrops.

The role of imaging for Ménière disease is controversial 2, but a number of findings on high-resolution CT and MRI have been associated with the disease.

At high-resolution temporal bone CT, a smaller or obliterated (non-visible) vestibular aqueduct is more often seen in ears affected with Ménière disease compared to controls 5,12,13. Moreover, a non-visible vestibular aqueduct predicts saccular hydrops on MRI while a normal (completely visible) vestibular aqueduct predicts its absence 12.

Historically, MRI has been used to exclude alternative diagnoses such as vestibular schwannoma or other cerebellopontine angle lesions, and superior semicircular canal dehiscence.

During the past decade, the morphologic substrate of Ménière disease, i.e. endolymphatic hydrops, has become visible using high resolution MRI techniques 9.

Non-contrast MRI technique uses a heavily T2-weighted sequence (such as the vendor-specific sequences CISS or FIESTA-C). 

The following findings have been correlated with Ménière disease or at least advanced stages of it:

Contrast-enhanced techniques have emerged as a promising modality for assessment of Ménière disease. These typically use a 3D fluid-attenuated inversion recovery (FLAIR) sequence or a 3D inversion recovery (IR) sequence either 24 hours after intratympanic gadolinium administration or 4 hours after intravenous gadolinium administration 9. The latter technique is the most frequently used. The contrast material diffuses into the perilymph but not the endolymph.

The following findings on delayed post-contrast 3D FLAIR support endolymphatic hydrops, with variable performance to detect Ménière disease 9,10:

  • vestibular endolymphatic space (saccule and utricle) occupying >33% of the vestibule (significant if >50%)
  • cochlear endolymphatic space (scala media) enlargement displacing Reissner's membrane (significant if endolymphatic compartment exceeds area of the scala vestibuli)
  • saccule larger than utricle

It is named after the French physician Prosper Ménière (1799-1862) who first recognized vertigo as an inner ear disorder.

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Cases and figures

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