About labyrinthitis

What is labyrinthitis?

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.

What are the symptoms for labyrinthitis?

Symptoms of labyrinthitis begin quickly and can be quite intense for several days. They usually begin to fade after that, but they can continue to surface when you move your head suddenly. This condition doesn’t usually cause pain.

Symptoms can include:

  • dizziness
  • vertigo
  • loss of balance
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • tinnitus, which is characterized by a ringing or buzzing in your ear
  • loss of hearing in the high-frequency range in one ear
  • difficulty focusing your eyes

In very rare cases, complications can include permanent hearing loss.

What are the causes for 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
  • herpes viruses
  • bacterial infections, including bacterial middle ear infections
  • infectious organisms, such as the organism that causes Lyme disease

You have an increased risk of developing labyrinthitis if you:

  • smoke
  • drink large quantities of alcohol
  • have a history of allergies
  • are habitually fatigued
  • are under extreme stress
  • take some prescription medications
  • take over-the-counter medications (especially aspirin)

What are the treatments for labyrinthitis?

Symptoms can be relieved with medications, including:

  • prescription antihistamines, such as desloratadine (Clarinex)
  • medications that can reduce dizziness and nausea, such as meclizine (Antivert)
  • sedatives, such as diazepam (Valium)
  • corticosteroids, such as prednisone
  • over-the-counter antihistamines, such as fexofenadine (Allegra), diphenhydramine (Benadryl), or loratadine (Claritin)

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If you have an active infection, your doctor will probably prescribe antibiotics.

In addition to taking medications, there are several techniques you can use to relieve vertigo:

  • Avoid quick changes in position or sudden movements.
  • Sit still during a vertigo attack.
  • Get up slowly from a lying down or seated position.
  • Avoid television, computer screens, and bright or flashing lights during a vertigo attack.
  • If vertigo occurs while you’re in bed, try sitting up in a chair and keeping your head still. Low lighting is better for your symptoms than darkness or bright lights.

If your vertigo continues for a long time, physical and occupational therapists can teach you exercises to help improve balance.

Vertigo can interfere with your ability to operate a car or other machinery safely. You should make other arrangements until it’s safe to drive again.

What are the risk factors for labyrinthitis?

You have an increased risk of developing labyrinthitis if you:

smoke, drink large quantities of alcohol, have a history of allergies, are habitually fatigued, are under extreme stress, take some prescription medications, and/ or take over-the-counter medications (especially aspirin)

Is there a cure/medications for labyrinthitis?

In most cases, symptoms will resolve within one to three weeks, and you’ll experience a full recovery in a few months. In the meantime, symptoms such as vertigo and vomiting may interfere with your ability to work, drive, or participate fully in sports. Try to ease back into these activities slowly as you recover.

If your symptoms haven’t improved after several months, your doctor may want to order additional tests to rule out other conditions if they haven’t already done so.

Most people only have a single episode of labyrinthitis. It rarely becomes a chronic condition.

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