Labyrinthitis is an inflammation of the labyrinth in the inner ear. The labyrinth is a system of cavities and canals in the inner ear that affects hearing, balance, and eye movement.
- Viral or bacterial infection–this is the most common cause
- Head injury
- Tumor in the brain or head
- Disease of blood vessels
- Nerve problems
- Side effects of drugs, including:
- Aminoglycoside antibiotics
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Risk factors for labyrinthitis include:
- Current or recent viral infection (especially a respiratory infection)
- Drinking too much alcohol
The symptoms can range from mild to severe and last for days or many weeks. Symptoms are usually temporary, but rarely, can become permanent.
The most common symptoms are:
- Vertigo (spinning sensation)
Other symptoms may include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Hearing loss
- Involuntary eye movement
- Ringing in the ear (tinnitus)
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Initial diagnosis is based on the symptoms and the results of your exam.
Tests may include:
- Examination of the middle ear for signs of a viral or bacterial infection
- Hearing tests
- Electronystagmogram–a test of eye movement
- CT scan or MRI scan–to look at structures in the head
Treatment may include:
- Antibiotics (only for bacterial infection)
- Medication to control the symptoms, including:
- Antiemetics–to control nausea and vomiting
- Vestibular suppressants–such as meclizine, to help control loss of balance and dizziness
- Steroids–in limited situation, to help control inflammation
Note: Without antibiotic treatment, bacterial labyrinthitis can lead to permanent hearing loss or permanent problems with balance.
- Rest. Lie still with your eyes closed in a darkened room during acute attacks.
- Avoid movement, especially sudden movement, as much as possible.
- Avoid reading.
- Resume normal activities gradually after the symptoms have cleared.
In some cases, nausea and vomiting cannot be controlled. This can result in severe dehydration. This may require hospitalization to receive intravenous fluids.
Rarely, labyrinthitis may be due to a break in the membranes between the middle and inner ear. Surgery to repair the break may be required. If a tumor is causing the condition, surgery may also be needed.
To reduce your risk of getting labyrinthitis:
- Seek prompt treatment for any ear problems or infection.
- Get medical advice on treating respiratory infections.
- Avoid head injury by wearing seat belts and safety helmets.
- Ask your doctor about side effects of any medication you’re taking.
- Avoid alcohol.
- Take steps to prevent blood vessel disease or stroke. These include:
- Eat a low fat, low cholesterol diet.
- Don’t smoke.
- If you have high blood pressure get it treated.
- If you have diabetes, work closely with your doctor to keep it under good control.
- Exercise regularly, with your doctor’s approval.