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Labyrinthitis is the inflammation of part of the inner ear called the labyrinth. The eighth cranial nerve (vestibulocochlear nerve) may also be inflamed. The inflammation of these causes a feeling of spinning (vertigo), hearing loss, and other symptoms. In most people, these symptoms go away over time. It is not a common condition. It usually only affects one ear.
The inner ear has a system of fluid-filled tubes and sacs called the labyrinth. Inside the inner ear, the cochlea gathers information about sound. The vestibular organs gather information about motion and changes in space. These contribute to a sense of balance. The eighth cranial nerve sends all of this information from the inner ear to the brain.
When one of the nerves or the labyrinth is infected, it can become inflamed and irritated. This can cause it to not work normally. It may cause hearing loss in one ear. The brain now has to make sense of the information that doesn’t match between the normal nerve and the infected one. This causes vertigo.
A viral infection of the eighth cranial nerve or labyrinth may cause the condition. The virus may have spread throughout your body. Or it may only affect the eighth cranial nerve and labyrinth. In most cases only one nerve is affected. Viruses known to cause labyrinthitis include:
Bacterial infections of the middle ear are fairly common in children. In rare cases, an infection in the middle part of the ear can spread to the inner ear and cause labyrinthitis. This is more of a risk with middle-ear infections that are long-lasting (chronic) and not treated. In rare cases, bacterial meningitis or head trauma may cause labyrinthitis. In other cases, the cause is not known.
Having a viral infection that can cause labyrinthitis increases your risk. Your child’s risk may increase if he or she hasn’t had the recommended vaccines.
Symptoms of labyrinthitis of may include:
Your symptoms might range from mild to severe. They may come on very quickly. In many people, these symptoms go away over several weeks. Others have symptoms that last longer.
A related syndrome is called vestibular neuritis. It causes similar symptoms. But it does not cause hearing problems. It affects only the vestibular portion of the labyrinth and nerve.
Labyrinthitis does not cause neurological symptoms (such as severe headache, speech problems, or loss of arm or leg movement).
Your healthcare provider will ask about your medical history. You may also have a physical exam. This may include hearing and balance tests. It will also include an exam of your nervous system. Many neurological and other health conditions can cause dizziness and vertigo. Your healthcare provider may need to rule these out.
There are no tests for labyrinthitis. But your provider may have you take an imaging test. This can help to rule out other causes of your symptoms, such as stroke.
You may have tests such as:
Your healthcare provider will figure out the best treatment for you based on:
Immediate treatment for labyrinthitis might include:
If your symptoms go away in a few weeks, you likely won’t need other treatment. If you have symptoms that don’t go away, you may need to do certain exercises. These are known as vestibular rehabilitation exercises. They are a form of physical therapy. These exercises may help your brain learn to adjust to the vestibular imbalance.
Usually, labyrinthitis does not cause any problems. In rare cases, labyrinthitis permanently damages the eighth cranial nerve. This can cause lasting problems with balance, and partial or total hearing loss. You might need to use a hearing aid. Be sure to get treatment right away to help reduce your risk for these complications.
Call your healthcare provider if your symptoms don’t begin to go away after a few days of treatment. Also call your healthcare provider if you have more symptoms, like trouble moving an arm or a leg.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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