Labyrinthitis

Labyrinthitis is a benign inflammation of the labyrinth, a structure within the inner ear that controls balance. Inflammation of the inner ear can cause sudden vertigo (feeling like your are spinning or like the room is moving around you) and dizziness, and may be accompanied by temporary hearing loss or difficulty standing.

Patients with labyrinthitis occasionally experience tinnitus (ringing in the ears), nystagmus (involuntary eye movement), nausea or vomiting.

Causes

While the exact cause of labyrinthitis is still unclear, it appears to develop after a viral infection or, more rarely, after a bacterial infection.

The nerves in the inner ear become inflamed, sending incorrect signals to the brain and creating the false impression that the body is moving when it is not. These signals conflict with those coming from the other senses (e.g., sight), resulting in labyrinthitis-induced vertigo.

Treatment

Labyrinthitis usually resolves on its own within a few weeks. Patients with bacterial labyrinthitis may be prescribed antibiotics.

While labyrinthitis does not usually last long, loss of balance and dizziness may persist for several weeks after healing.

A good way to limit the duration of symptoms is to train the brain to compensate for problems with the inner ear through exercises recommended by a physical therapist, for example. Speak to your healthcare provider for more information.

For those with severe labyrinthitis, the use of products such as antihistamines or medications used to treat nausea and vertigo may be recommended to alleviate symptoms. Long-term use, however, is not advised since they can slow the brain's compensatory mechanism.

When should I see a medical professional?

  • Consult a medical professional if symptoms persist.
  • Go to the nearest emergency room if you have vertigo and experience at least one of the following symptoms:
    • Severe or unusual headache
    • Trouble speaking normally
    • Seeing double or blurred vision
    • Weakness in an arm or leg, or drooping on one side of the face
    • Fainting
    • Fever
    • Chest pain
    • Persistent vomiting
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