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What is labyrinthitis?

Published on January 24, 2017 at 14:36 / Updated on March 17, 2022 at 17:32

Labyrinthitis is a frequent reason for consultation, as it causes symptoms that are sometimes very unpleasant—even incapacitating—for the person who suffers from it. In this article, we will go into more detail about this ear infection.

First of all, let's highlight the affected part of the body: the labyrinth. This tiny structure (roughly 1.25 cm in length) is located in the inner ear and is made up of tiny vesicles and tubes filled with fluid.

The labyrinth is divided into two parts: the cochlea, which plays a major role in the sense of hearing, and the organs of the vestibular system, which ensure our balance. The vestibular system enables the brain to identify in real time the position in which the head is located, whether the eyes are open or closed.

For various reasons that we will discuss in this article, the inner ear can become inflamed in response to a viral or bacterial infection. And since the space in this area is rather small, the infection spreads there very quickly, rarely giving the labyrinth a chance.

Although this common condition is benign, serious complications may result. In fact, the inflammation can reach the nerves in the vestibule, causing vestibular neuronitis. This is very similar to labyrinthitis, but it deserves more careful treatment.

In any case, you should consult a healthcare professional following the onset of signs and symptoms of labyrinthitis.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of labyrinthitis can be very confusing. In most cases, it causes discomfort that affects the entire body. While the most well-known symptom of labyrinthitis remains vertigo of varying intensity, other symptoms are also commonly experienced, such as:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Palpitations
  • Tinnitus (continuous buzzing in the ear)
  • Loss of balance.

In the event that symptoms of fever, seizures or fainting are added to labyrinthitis’ usual symptoms, then it is strongly suggested that you consult a doctor without delay.

What are the causes of labyrinthitis?

It is quite common for a given case of labyrinthitis not to have a specific cause.

However, various factors can still be involved in the infection of this part of the ear. A viral infection, such as the common cold, the flu, mononucleosis, or a bacterial infection, such as ear infection or meningitis, are examples of infections that predispose an individual to develop labyrinthitis.

According to experts, it affects people between the ages of 20 and 65 more, but can occur at any time in a person’s life.

Very rarely, labyrinthitis is caused by allergies, reactions to any medication or treatment, and even lesser so by autoimmune diseases, including cancerous tumors.

How long does it last?

In most cases, labyrinthitis goes away on its own between 21 and 42 days. However, if the nerve tissue in the ear has been affected by the infection, symptoms may persist for several months.

It is important for a doctor to diagnose its extent in order to prevent the inflammation from spreading to other areas of the inner ear. In other words, the earlier you consult, the more chance you have of preventing possible complications.

How is it diagnosed?

Usually, examining the inner ear (even the one affected by labyrinthitis) does not reveal any abnormalities. For this reason, diagnosing labyrinthitis can be difficult for the doctor.

Fortunately, various tests help them rule out other possible sources to finally make an unequivocal diagnosis. These tests include medical imaging (an MRI, more precisely), CT scans, eye tests, and more.

As soon as labyrinthitis is diagnosed, treatment options are instantly available.

Treating labyrinthitis

To date, there is no specific treatment to cure labyrinthitis itself. Rather, the current treatments are designed to relieve its symptoms. Nevertheless, these options are still suggested to anyone suffering from them.

The main objective is to reduce dizziness, so the person can resume their normal activities. The doctor will also suggest plenty of rest, as well as anti-dizziness and anti-nausea medication.

In some cases, the dizziness is very intense when lying down, which compromises sleep (or makes it impossible). Sleep aids are then prescribed to give the person quality sleep: essential for a good recovery.

How do you alleviate the symptoms?

Besides medication, there are various methods that can help decrease the symptoms of labyrinthitis. It should be noted that they are most effective when combined and fully respected:

  • Stop consuming caffeine and alcohol
  • Avoid turning or tilting your head as much as possible
  • Avoid bright light and noisy environments
  • Avoid reading a book, as well as exposure to devices/screens
  • Avoid any sudden movement, physical exercise or position that causes the onset of dizziness

In addition to these methods to include in your daily life, our experts advise:

  • Take breaks more frequently during the day (if you are working)
  • Stay hydrated
  • Do not stop taking prescribed medications, other than on the advice of your doctor or pharmacist
  • Follow the personalized advice of the professionals who monitor your file

When should you consult a doctor?

If you think you have labyrinthitis, talking to a healthcare professional can help. This is even more true if your symptoms have recently worsened, or are accompanied by new symptoms, such as fever, ear pain, or fainting.

Although only a doctor can make a diagnosis of labyrinthitis, any other healthcare professional, including your pharmacist, can answer your general questions.

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