Overview of labyrinthitis
Labyrinthitis is an inner ear disorder. The two vestibular nerves in your inner ear send your brain information about your spatial navigation and balance control. When one of these nerves becomes inflamed, it creates a condition known as labyrinthitis.
Several factors can cause this disorder, including infections and viruses. You should receive immediate treatment for any ear infection, but there is no known way to prevent labyrinthitis.
Treatment of labyrinthitis usually involves the use of medications to control its symptoms. Most people find respite from symptoms in one to three weeks and achieve a full retrieval in one to two months.
Causes of labyrinthitis
Labyrinthitis can occur at any age. A variety of factors can cause labyrinthitis, including:
- Respiratory illnesses, such as bronchitis.
- Viral infections of the inner ear.
- Stomach viruses
- Bacterial infections, including bacterial middle ear infections.
- Infectious organisms, such as the organism that causes Lyme disease.
Labyrinthitis can not only upset your hearing, it can also make you feel dizzy. You may experience something more serious, such as vertigo. This is the unexpected feeling that the inside of your head is spinning.
Other symptoms can include:
- Blurry vision.
- You feel unstable like you’re about to fall.
- You feel dizzy or like you are floating.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Ringing in the ears or hearing loss.
Symptoms usually appear without warning. For example, you may notice them when you wake up one morning. This can be scary. If you feel dizzy or have problems with your balance or vision, call your doctor or go to the emergency room right away.
You cannot get labyrinthitis (inner ear infections) from someone else who has the condition. However, it is often the result of ear infections. An ear infection itself is not contagious. To prevent ear infections, practice good hygiene.
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Avoid sharing food and drinks, especially with someone you know has an ear infection.
- Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke.
- Children should be vaccinated, specifically with the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine to protect them against various types of pneumococcal bacteria, which are the most common cause of ear infections.
Bacterial labyrinthitis carries an increased risk of causing permanent hearing loss, especially in children who have developed it as a complication of meningitis.
Due to this high risk, a hearing test is recommended after bacterial labyrinthitis.
Severe hearing loss that follows bacterial labyrinthitis can sometimes be treated with a cochlear implant. This is not a conventional hearing aid, but rather a small electronic device that is placed under the skin behind the ear during surgery.
Your healthcare provider will ask about your medical history. You may also have a physical exam. This can include hearing and balance tests. It will also include an exam of your nervous system. Many neurological and health conditions can cause dizziness and vertigo. Your healthcare provider may need to rule them out.
There is no evidence for labyrinthitis. But your provider may ask you to have an imaging test. This can help rule out other causes of your symptoms, such as a stroke.
You may have tests such as:
- Magnetic resonance. This is done to rule out a stroke.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG) or other cardiovascular tests. These can rule out cardiovascular causes.
- Electronystagmography (ENG) or videonystagmography (VNG). These record the movement of your eyes. This helps to find the exact problem area in your vestibular system and assess the cause of your balance disorder.
Your doctor may prescribe medications that can reduce dizziness and nausea, and sedatives to relieve anxiety. These drugs should be given only for a short period, that is, no more than three days.
Vestibular rehabilitation should be started as early as possible to obtain optimal results and achieve central compensation.