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Ear Nose And Throat

Labyrinthitis

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Definition

Labyrinthitis is an ear disorder that involves irritation and swelling (inflammation) of the inner ear.

Alternative Names

Bacterial labyrinthitis; Serous labyrinthitis; Neuronitis - vestibular; Vestibular neuronitis; Viral neurolabyrinthitis; Vestibular neuritis

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

There are many causes of labyrinthitis. In rare cases, it occurs after an ear infection (otitis media) or an upper respiratory infection. It may also occur after an allergy, cholesteatoma, or taking certain drugs that are dangerous to the inner ear.

During labyrinthitis, the parts of the inner ear become irritated and inflamed. This interferes with their ability to help you balance and hear.

The following raise your risk for labyrinthitis:

  • Drinking large amounts of alcohol
  • Fatigue
  • History of allergies
  • Recent viral illness, respiratory infection, or ear infection
  • Smoking
  • Stress
  • Use of certain prescription or nonprescription drugs (especially aspirin)

Symptoms

  • Abnormal sensation of movement (vertigo)
  • Difficulty focusing the eyes because of involuntary eye movements
  • Dizziness
  • Hearing loss in one ear
  • Loss of balance, such as falling toward one side
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Ringing or other noises in the ears (tinnitus)

Signs and tests

A complete physical and nervous system (neurological) exam should be done. An ear examination may not reveal any problems.

Usually, other tests are not needed to diagnose layrinthitis. Tests will be done to rule out other causes of your symptoms. These may include:

  • EEG
  • Electronystagmography
  • Head CT scan
  • Hearing tests (audiology/audiometry)
  • MRI of the head
  • Warming and cooling the inner ear with air or water (caloric stimulation) to test eye reflexes

Treatment

Labyrinthitis usually goes away within a few weeks. Treatment helps to reduce symptoms, such as spinning sensations. Medications that may reduce symptoms include:

  • Antihistamines
  • Medicines such as compazine to control nausea and vomiting
  • Medicines to relieve dizziness, such as meclizine or scopalamine
  • Sedative-hypnotics such as Valium

To prevent your symptoms from getting worse during episodes of vertigo, try the following:

  • Keep still and rest when you have symptoms.
  • 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.
  • Avoid activities such as driving, operating heavy machinery, and climbing until 1 week after your symptoms disappear. A sudden dizzy spell during these activities can be dangerous.

Expectations (prognosis)

If you have severe vomiting, you may be admitted to the hospital.

Severe symptoms usually go away within a week. Most patients are completely better within 2 to 3 months. Continued dizziness is more likely to last in older patients.

Hearing loss may be permanent.

Complications

  • Injury to self or others during attacks of vertigo
  • Permanent hearing loss (rare)

Calling your health care provider

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
  • Persistent vomiting
  • 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 2011. 1st ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2010.

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

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