What is labyrinthitis?

Labyrinthitis is a disorder of the inner ear that occurs when one of the vestibular nerves becomes inflamed. The vestibular nerves, which reside in the inner ear, send information to your brain to control balance.

Balance Disorders Meniere's Disease Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) Vestibular Neuritis

Types of labyrinthitis

There are two types of labyrinthitis:

Viral labyrinthitis

Viral labyrinthitis is more common than bacterial labyrinthitis and typically only affects one ear. It has been linked to measles, mumps, hepatitis, herpes simplex II, chicken pox and shingles. Although symptoms may subside quickly with viral labyrinthitis, it can come back without warning.

Bacterial labyrinthitis

Bacterial labyrinthitis can be caused when bacteria gets into the inner ear and causes inflammation or from an infection in the bones surrounding the inner ear.

Causes of labyrinthitis

There are several causes of labyrinthitis, including:

  • Stomach virus
  • Herpes virus
  • Bronchitis, influenza or other respiratory illnesses
  • Inner ear infections
  • Bacterial middle ear infections

Risk factors for labyrinthitis

You are at greater risk of developing labyrinthitis if you:

  • Are a smoker
  • Have allergies or a history of allergies
  • Take prescription or over-the-counter medications
  • Are under major stress or are extremely fatigued

Symptoms of labyrinthitis

Symptoms of labyrinthitis include:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Loss of hearing
  • Vertigo
  • Loss of balance
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ear)
  • Loss of hearing in one ear
  • Inability or difficulty focusing your eyes
  • Permanent hearing loss

Symptoms can occur suddenly without warning. If you are having trouble with balance, vision or feel lightheaded, call your doctor right away.

Diagnosis of labyrinthitis

Your Mercy Health doctor may be able to diagnose labyrinthitis during a physical examination. Because symptoms of labyrinthitis are similar to other ear conditions such as Meniere’s disease, migraines, a minor stroke, a brain hemorrhage or benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, your doctor may also order tests to rule these conditions out.

Your doctor may order the following tests:

  • Hearing test
  • Neurological exam
  • Blood tests
  • CT or MRI scan — takes images of the brain
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG) — tests brain waves
  • Electronystagmography (ENG) — tests eye movement

Treatments for labyrinthitis

Depending on the cause of your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe one of the following treatment options:

Medical management

Medications that may help relieve your symptoms include:

  • Prescription and over-the-counter antihistamines
  • Sedatives
  • Corticosteroids
  • Antibiotics (if you have a current infection)
  • Medications that relieve nausea and dizziness

Movement changes

There are several movement changes you can try to relieve the symptoms of vertigo such as:

  • Avoid any sudden body movements or changes in position.
  • Get up slowly from a sitting or lying down position to give your blood pressure time to adjust.
  • Avoid moving during a vertigo attack.
  • Stay away from computer screens, flashing lights or television during a vertigo episode.
  • If you are lying down when an episode starts, move to a sitting position in a chair. Use low lighting instead of bright lights or complete darkness.

Balance exercises

Your doctor may recommend using a physical therapist to teach you exercises that can improve your balance.

Find an ENT doctor nearby

Mercy Health locations that can treat you