What is labyrinthitis?
(say "lab-uh-rin-THY-tus") is a problem inside the inner ear. It happens
when the labyrinth, a part of the inner ear that helps control your balance,
gets swollen and
The inflammation may cause
vertigo. This makes you feel like you're spinning or
whirling. Labyrinthitis may also cause temporary hearing loss or a ringing
sound in your ears.
Your doctor may also call this vestibular neuritis. The two problems have the same symptoms and are treated the same way.
See pictures of the inner ear showing the
labyrinth and an inflamed vestibular nerve .
What causes labyrinthitis?
The cause of
labyrinthitis is not clear. Labyrinthitis can happen after a
viral infection or, more rarely, after an infection
bacteria. It is often triggered by an
upper respiratory infection, such as the flu or a
cold. Less often, it may start after a middle ear infection.
The infection inflames the vestibular nerve. This causes the nerve to send incorrect signals to the brain that the body is moving. But your
other senses (such as vision) don't detect the same movement. The confusion in
signals can make you feel that the room is spinning or that you have lost your
What are the symptoms?
The main symptom of
labyrinthitis is vertigo. Vertigo is not the same as feeling
dizzy. Dizziness means that you feel unsteady or
lightheaded. But vertigo makes you feel like you're spinning or whirling.
It may make it hard for you to walk. Symptoms of vertigo and dizziness may be caused by many problems other than
With labyrinthitis, the vertigo begins without
warning. It often starts 1 to 2 weeks after you've had the flu or a cold. It
may be severe enough to make you vomit or make you feel sick to your stomach. Vertigo slowly goes away over a few days to weeks. But for a month or longer,
you may still get vertigo symptoms if you suddenly move your head a certain
Labyrinthitis may also cause hearing loss and a ringing sound
in your ears (tinnitus). Most often, these symptoms don't last for
more than a few weeks.
How is labyrinthitis diagnosed?
Your doctor can
tell if you have labyrinthitis by doing a physical exam and asking about your
symptoms and past health. Your doctor will look for signs of viral
infections that can trigger labyrinthitis.
If the cause of your
vertigo is not clear, your doctor may do other tests, such as electronystagmography or an MRI to rule out other
How is it treated?
Most of the time, labyrinthitis
goes away on its own. This normally takes several weeks. If the cause is a
bacterial infection, your doctor will give you antibiotics. But most cases are
caused by viral infections, which can't be cured with antibiotics.
Your doctor may prescribe steroid medicines, which may help you get better sooner. He or she may also give you other medicines, such as antiemetics, antihistamines, and sedatives, to help control the nausea and vomiting caused by
Vertigo usually gets better as your body adjusts (compensation). Medicines like antihistamines can help your symptoms, but they may make it take longer for vertigo to go away. It's best to only use medicines when they are needed and for as little time as possible.
Staying active can help you get better. Check with your doctor about trying balance exercises at home. These include simple head movements and keeping your balance while standing and sitting. They may reduce symptoms of vertigo.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Actionsets are designed to help people take an active role in managing a health condition.
- Vertigo: Balance Exercises
Learning about labyrinthitis:
- What is labyrinthitis?
- What is vestibular neuritis?
- How can I tell the difference between vertigo and dizziness?
- What sensory signals help me avoid vertigo and keep my balance?
- What is the Dix-Hallpike test?
- What is electronystagmography?
Living with labyrinthitis:
- What balance exercises can I do for vertigo?
- What are Brandt-Daroff exercises for vertigo?
Organization American Hearing Research Foundation www.american-hearing.org
- Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)
- Dizziness: Lightheadedness and Vertigo
- Ear Infections
- Ménière's Disease
Other Works Consulted
Hillier SL, McDonnell M (2011). Vestibular rehabilitation for unilateral peripheral vestibular dysfunction. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2).
Johnson J, Lalwani AK (2012). Vestibular disorders. In AK Lalwani, ed., Current Diagnosis and Treatment in Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, 3rd ed., pp. 729–738. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Walker MF, Daroff RB (2012). Dizziness and vertigo. In DL Longo et al., eds., Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 18th ed., vol. 1, pp. 178–181. New York: McGraw-Hill.