Labyrinthitis is swelling and inflammation of the labyrinth, part of the inner ear that helps control your balance.
The inflammation may cause you to feel dizzy, like you are spinning or whirling. Labyrinthitis may also cause temporary hearing loss or a ringing in your ears or tinnitus, and it may also make you feel sick.
Labyrinthitis can happen after a viral infection or, more rarely, after an infection caused by bacteria.
Labyrinthitis usually goes away on its own after three to eight weeks. Sometimes the effects are more severe and longer-lasting, which can be debilitating for the person concerned.
What causes labyrinthitis?
The labyrinth is deep inside the ear where it joins the skull. It comprises the cochlea for hearing and the fluid-filled vestibular system for balance.
The labyrinth can become inflamed from cold or flu viruses spreading to the ear.
Measles, mumps or glandular fever are less common viral infections that can result in labyrinthitis.
More rarely, a bacterial infection may be to blame, sometimes from a middle ear infection or following damage to the ear from a head injury.
If the vestibular system in just one ear is affected, the signals the brain uses for balance are disrupted.
Labyrinthitis is a major cause of vertigo and is a common ear condition in adults. Viral labyrinthitis affects women more often than men.
Symptoms and diagnosis of labyrinthitis?
As well as dizziness, vertigo and hearing problems, labyrinthitis may cause pain in the ears, nausea, a fever, sight problems and neck pain. There may also be fluid or pus seeping out of an ear.
A doctor will diagnose labyrinthitis based on the symptoms a person describes, a physical examination and other tests.
A test for hearing problems may help the diagnosis, as will other clues such as flickering of the eyes caused by the balance system being out of kilter.
No reliable tests are available to check if the labyrinthitis is due to a viral or bacterial infection.
Seek medical advice if other symptoms are experienced, such as confusion, double vision, numbness in one part of the body or difficulty walking.
Treatment for labyrinthitis
A combination of medication and self-help or self-care steps are usually recommended to treat labyrinthitis.
If labyrinthitis is caused by a virus, like a cold, antibiotics would not be effective. If a bacterial infection is suspected, antibiotics may be prescribed.
For severe symptoms, a doctor may prescribe a short course of a benzodiazepine medication that reduces activity in the central nervous system. This should protect the brain from the misleading or abnormal signals it is getting from the vestibular system. These drugs are not suitable for long-term use.
Antiemetic drugs may be prescribed for nausea, vomiting and vertigo symptoms.
To avoid injury from falls with balance problems, lie down during an attack and keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Bed rest may help.
The dizziness and vertigo symptoms may be made worse by chocolate, coffee, alcohol, smoking, bright lights and noise. It may help to avoid or reduce these triggers.