Definition

Labyrinthitis is swelling and irritation in the inner ear. It occurs in the labyrinth of the ear. This is a system of cavities and canals. They affect hearing, balance, and eye movement.

Labyrinthitis

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Causes

Labyrinthitis is caused by damage or impairment of the labyrinth part of the chochlea from:

    
  • Infection
  • Trauma
  • Inflammation
  • Drugs
  • Risk Factors

    Factors that increase your risk for labyrinthitis include:

        
  • Current or recent viral infection, especially a respiratory infection
  • Allergies
  • Smoking
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Stress
  • Head injury
  • Disease of blood vessels
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Side effects of drugs, including:     
  • Certain antibiotics
  • Aspirin
  • Quinine—may be used for malaria treatment
  • Symptoms

    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:

        
  • A spinning sensation
  • Lightheadedness
  • Balance problems
  • Other symptoms may include:

        
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hearing loss
  • Involuntary eye movement
  • Ringing in the ear
  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. An ear exam and a neurological exam may also be done.

    Your ears may be tested. This can be done with:

        
  • Maneuvers for evaluating for other causes of lightheadedness
  • Hearing tests
  • Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:

        
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • Your eyes may also be tested. This can be done with an electronystagmogram.

    Treatment

    Treatment may include:

    Medications

    Medication to control the symptoms, including:

        
  • Antiemetics—to control nausea and vomiting
  • Vestibular suppressants—to limit vertigo
  • Steroids—in limited situations, to help control inflammation
  • Antibiotics—to treat a bacterial infection
  • Note: Without antibiotic treatment, labyrinthitis caused by a bacterial infection can lead to permanent hearing loss or balance problems.

    Self-care Measures

    Some steps to help you manage your symptoms include:

        
  • 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.
  • Vestibular Exercises (Vestibular Rehabilitation)

    Your doctor may suggest specific vestibular exercises. These exercises use a series of eye, head, and body movements to get the body used to moving without the sensation of spinning. You may work with a physical therapist to learn these.

    Emergency Treatment

    In some cases, nausea and vomiting cannot be controlled. This can result in severe dehydration . You may need hospitalization to receive fluids and nutrients through an IV. You may also need antiematic medication.

    Surgery

    Rarely, labyrinthitis may be due to a break in the membranes between the outer and inner ear. Surgery to repair the break may be required. If a tumor is causing the condition, surgery may also be needed.

    Prevention

    To reduce your risk of getting labyrinthitis:

        
  • Seek prompt treatment for any ear problems or infection.
  • Avoid head injury by wearing seat belts and safety helmets.
  • Ask your doctor about side effects of any medications you are taking.
  • Avoid alcohol.