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Diagnosis

Diagnosing Ménière's disease can be difficult. Your doctor cannot examine the inner ear directly, so there is no simple way to tell if fluid has built up. Usually, your doctor will diagnose Ménière's disease if you experience the typical symptoms and other possible causes of the symptoms have been ruled out.

Your doctor will start by taking a medical history, including information about past or current medical problems and medications that you take. He or she will ask you detailed questions about your symptoms, including when they started, how often and for how long they occur, and how disabling they are. Your doctor then will examine you, with a special focus on your ears, nose, throat and balance system.

Tests that may be used to aid in diagnosis include:

  • A hearing test, also called audiometry — This simple test can tell whether you are experiencing hearing problems, how much hearing you have lost, and what type of hearing problems you have. People with Ménière's disease have a particular type of damage to nerves important for normal hearing, which may make it difficult to tell the difference between similar-sounding words such as "boat" and "moat."

  • Computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), scans that allow physicians to see the brain, middle ear and other structures inside the head — These scans can check for tumors and other problems that can cause symptoms that are similar to Ménière's.

  • Electronystagmography or rotational testing — These tests use the nerve connection between the ears and the eyes to examine your body's balance system. In a darkened room, electrodes are placed near the eyes. Then, the ear canal is stimulated with water, air or changes in position. The electrodes measure how the inner ear responds. In Ménière's disease, your doctor can spot typical changes caused by the buildup of fluid in the inner ear.

If the diagnosis remains uncertain, you may be referred to an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) or neurologist.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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