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Labyrinthitis

Definition

Labyrinthitis is irritation and swelling of the inner ear. It can cause vertigo and hearing loss.

Alternative Names

Bacterial labyrinthitis; Serous labyrinthitis; Neuronitis - vestibular; Vestibular neuronitis; Viral neurolabyrinthitis; Vestibular neuritis; Labyrinthitis-vertigo: Labyrinthitis-dizziness

Causes

Labyrinthitis is usually caused by a virus and sometimes by bacteria. Having a cold or flu can trigger the condition. Less often, an ear infection may lead to labyrinthitis. Other causes include allergies or certain drugs that are bad for the inner ear.

Your inner ear is important for both hearing and balance. When you have labyrinthitis, the parts of your inner ear become irritated and swollen. This can make you lose your balance and cause hearing loss.

These factors raise your risk for labyrinthitis:

Symptoms

Exams and Tests

Your doctor may give you a physical exam. You may also have tests of your nervous system (neurological exam).

Tests can rule out other causes of your symptoms. These may include:

Treatment

Labyrinthitis usually goes away within a few weeks. Treatment can help reduce vertigo and other symptoms. Medicines that may help include:

  • Antihistamines
  • Medicines to control nausea and vomiting, such as prochlorperazine (Compazine)
  • Medicines relieve dizziness, such as meclizine (Bonine, Dramamine, or Antivert) or scopolamine (Transderm-Scop)
  • Sedatives, such as diazepam (Valium)
  • Steroids (Prednisone)
  • Antiviral agents

Doing these things can help you manage vertigo:

  • Stay still and rest.
  • Avoid sudden movements or position changes.
  • Slowly resume activity. You may need help walking when you lose your balance during attacks.
  • Avoid bright lights, TV, and reading during attacks. Rest during severe episodes, and slowly increase your activity.
  • Ask your health care provider about balance therapy. This may help once nausea and vomiting have passed.

You should avoid the following for 1 week after symptoms disappear:

  • Driving
  • Operating heavy machinery
  • Climbing

A sudden dizzy spell during these activities can be dangerous.

Outlook (Prognosis)

  • If you have severe vomiting, you may be admitted to the hospital.
  • Severe symptoms usually go away within a week.
  • Most people are completely better within 2 to 3 months.
  • Older adults are more likely to have dizziness that lasts longer.

Rarely, hearing loss may be permanent.

Possible Complications

  • You can injure yourself or others during attacks of vertigo
  • Permanent hearing loss (rare)

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if:

  • You have dizziness, vertigo, loss of balance, or other symptoms of labyrinthitis
  • You have hearing loss

Call 911 or your local emergency number if you have any of the following severe symptoms:

  • Convulsions
  • Double vision
  • Fainting
  • Vomiting a lot
  • Slurred speech
  • Vertigo that occurs with a fever of more than 101 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Weakness or paralysis

Prevention

There is no known way to prevent labyrinthitis.

References

Polensek SH. Labyrinthitis. In: Ferri FF, ed. Ferri's Clinical Advisor. 1st ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2010.

Post RE, Dickerson LM. Dizziness: a diagnostic approach. Am Fam Physician. 2010;82:361-369.

Crane BT, Schessel DA, Nedzelski J, Minor LB. Peripheral vestibular disorders. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2010:chap 1


Review Date: 8/12/2013
Reviewed By: Ashutosh Kacker, MD, BS, Associate Professor of Otolaryngology, Weill Cornell Medical College, and Associate Attending Otolaryngologist, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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