Labyrinthitis (inner ear infection)

What is labyrinthitis?

Labyrinthitis is an inner ear infection that affects a part of the ear known as the labyrinth. It helps to maintain balance, so when it becomes inflamed, those with the condition often feel dizzy or experience vertigo, among other symptoms. It is generally a temporary condition, although, in some cases, permanent hearing loss may occur.

Symptoms of labyrinthitis

Although dizziness and vertigo are among the most common symptoms of labyrinthitis, there are several other symptoms that may also be experienced, including:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Loss of balance
  • Lightheadedness
  • Ear pain
  • Tinnitus
  • Blurred vision

The symptoms of labyrinthitis may start quite suddenly, even emerging overnight, but do tend to settle after a few days. The severity of the symptoms will vary from person to person, with some cases lasting in excess of several weeks. If you are feeling dizzy, having trouble with your balance or believe that you have labyrinthitis, it is a good idea to see your GP. Also avoid driving and using potentially dangerous equipment. Alcohol and caffeine should also be avoided to prevent exacerbating your symptoms.

Causes: What triggers labyrinthitis?

More often than not, labyrinthitis is caused by a viral infection. However, the condition may also occur as a result of a bacterial infection or other health issues.

It may occur as a result of the following:

  • Colds and flus
  • Herpes viruses, including shingles, cold sores and chicken pox
  • Stomach viruses
  • Bacterial ear infections
  • Meningitis
  • Some autoimmune conditions
  • Some allergies
  • Taking some medications

If you are experiencing symptoms consistent with labyrinthitis, book an appointment with your GP. If sudden bouts of vertigo or single sided deafness occur, seek urgent medical care.

How long does labyrinthitis last for?

In most cases, symptoms should lessen within a few days and may not require treatment. However, in some cases, the symptoms of labyrinthitis can remain for weeks or months. If this occurs, further treatment and rehabilitation may be required.

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Living with labyrinthitis

Severe symptoms of labyrinthitis may start to reduce after a week. Most people recover completely within 2-3 months. Motion sensitivity can be ongoing for several years, especially for older adults living with labyrinthitis. In rare cases, people may experience permanent hearing loss. However, this is less likely if they are treated promptly after noticing symptoms.

Diagnosis of labyrinthitis

Symptoms of labyrinthitis are similar to those of other conditions. Therefore, when diagnosing labyrinthitis, your GP may need to complete a physical examination and neurological evaluation to rule out any other conditions, such as:

  • Meniere’s disease
  • Migraine
  • Head injury
  • Brain tumor
  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, which is an inner ear disorder
  • Stroke
  • Cardiovascular disease

Some of the tests may include:

  • Hearing tests
  • Blood tests
  • A CT or MRI scan
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG), which is a brain wave test
  • Electronystagmography (ENG), which is an eye movement test

Treatment and medication

Depending on the cause of labyrinthitis, treatments may include:

  • Antihistamines
  • Motion sickness tablets or medications that help to reduce dizziness
  • Corticosteroids to reduce inflammation
  • Antibiotics when a bacterial infection is present

If you are currently experiencing labyrinthitis, ensure that you’re getting plenty of rest and drinking enough fluids. Resting on your side may also provide relief during dizzy spells. It may also be a good idea to avoid caffeine, alcohol, bright lights, stressful situations and loud noises, which may exacerbate your symptoms.

Preventing labyrinthitis

Unfortunately as labyrinthitis generally occurs as the result of a viral or bacterial infection, there aren’t many preventative measures that you can take. However, you may be able to reduce your chances of experiencing labyrinthitis by practicing good hygiene. If you notice any symptoms consistent with labyrinthitis, seek medical attention early.

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