This topic provides information about Labyrinthitis.
What is labyrinthitis?
Labyrinthitis is an infection of the fluid-filled labyrinth of the inner ear, where the hearing and balance organs are located. The bacterial, or more commonly viral infection, causes an inflammation of the hearing organ (cochlea) and/or the balance organ (vestibular labyrinth) located at the innermost part of the ear.
What causes labyrinthitis?
Labyrinthitis can either be viral or bacterial. The viral labyrinthitis is much more common.
Bacteria that has affected the middle ear, fluid surrounding the brain (cerebrospinal fluid), or mastoid bone extends into the inner ear and infects the cochlea and/or vestibular organs. Bacterial labyrinthitis can occur with bacterial meningitis or when middle ear infections (otitis media) are left untreated.
An inner ear viral infection can be the result of a systemic viral infection (virus affecting the entire body) or it can be localized to only the ear, usually one ear. Little is known about viral labyrinthitis.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms can range from mild to severe. Symptoms usually come on suddenly and are the worse in the first few days.
How is labyrinthitis diagnosed?
Labyrinthitis can be difficult to diagnose because there are no current tests available to diagnose the infection. Tests will first be recommended to rule out other causes of dizziness, such as stroke, head injury, cardiovascular disease, allergies, neurological disorder, or Meniere’s disease.
How is it treated?
During the first few days, when symptoms are the worst, medications to reduce the nausea and dizziness may be used.
Other medications may be prescribed to treat the infection and/or inflammation such as antiviral medications, antibiotics, or steroids. It is critical that medical treatment is given promptly after sympmtoms start, to reduce the likelihood of permanent hearing loss and/or chronic dizziness.
Does labyrinthitis cause lasting problems?
Some people who have had labyrinthitis will experience chronic dizziness, vertigo and permanent hearing loss. In this case, more intensive treatment for the dizziness, called Vestibular Rehabliation TherapY (VRT), may be necessary to “retrain” the brain to compensate for the difference in signals coming from the ears. Improvement in dizziness can occur quickly for some, while others may need the therapy for years.