Disease: Labyrinthitis

What Is Labyrinthitis?

Outbreaks of labyrinthitis cause many people in the same community to have vertigo.

Labyrinthitis is a disorder that's believed to be caused by an infection that inflames the inner ear (the labyrinth) and the nerves connecting the inner ear to the brain.

It's different from a middle ear infection, which is a bacterial infection common in children.

Labyrinthitis has many names -- vestibular neuritis, vestibular neuronitis, and neurolabyrinthitis. The term labyrinthitis is used when hearing loss occurs.

Labyrinthitis outbreaks can occur in a community, causing many people in the area to have similar symptoms.

Causes of Labyrinthitis

Labyrinthitis is usually caused by a virus, and occasionally by bacteria.

The following can cause labyrinthitis:

  • Viral infection of the inner ear, stomach, or respiratory tract
  • Herpes virus infection, which also causes cold sores, shingles, and chicken pox
  • Bacteria, such as that which causes Lyme disease

Symptoms of Labyrinthitis

Symptoms range from mild to severe, and usually come on suddenly.

The symptoms gradually subside over several weeks, though dizziness can become chronic. If not treated promptly, some hearing loss may be permanent.

Many people have a hard time describing their symptoms because they simply don't feel well and may have trouble concentrating or focusing their eyes.

Since the inner ear is responsible for balance, an infection may cause you to suddenly become dizzy or feel as if the earth is spinning (vertigo).

The dizziness can lead to nausea and vomiting.

Ear symptoms include ringing in the ear (tinnitus) or hearing loss in the affected ear.

Risk Factors for Labyrinthitis

The following may increase your risk of developing labyrinthitis:

  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Allergies
  • Recent viral illness, respiratory infection, or ear infection
  • Taking certain medications, such as aspirin

Diagnosis of Labyrinthitis

There isn't a specific test for labyrinthitis, so your doctor will diagnose the disorder by eliminating other conditions with similar symptoms, such as Ménières syndrome and benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV).

You may have one or more of the following tests to rule out other conditions:

  • Electroencephalogram (EEG)
  • Electronystagmography
  • Caloric stimulation in which the inner ear is warmed and cooled with air or water to test eye reflexes
  • Cranial computed tomography (CT scan of your head)
  • Hearing tests
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of your head

Treatment of Labyrinthitis

While labyrinthitis usually goes away on its own within a few weeks, it may last for months. Treatment can help relieve symptoms and prevent complications.

Once a bacterial infection is ruled out, your doctor may prescribe the following medications, depending on your symptoms:

  • Antihistamines
  • Medicines to control nausea and vomiting
  • Medicines to relieve dizziness
  • Steroids
  • Antiviral drugs
  • Intravenous fluids if you become seriously dehydrated

Self-Care for Labyrinthitis

The following can help you manage vertigo:

  • Staying still and resting
  • Avoiding sudden movements or position changes
  • Slowly resuming activity
  • Avoiding bright lights, TV, and reading during attacks
  • Physical therapy to improve balance

It's best to avoid driving or operating heavy machinery until your symptoms have not occurred for at least one week:

Complications from Labyrinthitis

With proper treatment, your condition won't cause permanent damage. However, minor to severe permanent hearing loss can occur.

Other complications include:

  • Permanent damage to the vestibular system of the ear
  • Chronic dizziness when you change position (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV)
  • Abnormal fluctuations of inner ear fluid


  • Labyrinthitis; Johns Hopkins
  • Labyrinthitis; National Institutes of Health
  • Labyrinthitis and Vestibular Neuritis; Vestibular Disorders Association

Source: http://www.everydayhealth.com

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