What is vestibular neuritis?

Vestibular neuritis, also known as vestibular neuronitis, is an inner ear condition that may cause sudden, severe vertigo and/or dizziness. It occurs when your vestibular nerve is inflamed, and it can’t properly communicate with the brain. The vestibular nerve is located in the inner ear and sends information to the brain to help maintain your balance.

Although vestibular neuritis typically improves after a few days, you may experience dizziness and vertigo for several months.

Causes of vestibular neuritis

Vestibular neuritis is most commonly caused by a viral infection in the inner ear or from a systemic viral infection that affects the entire body.

Systemic viral infections that may cause vestibular neuritis include:

  • Measles
  • Flu
  • Mononucleosis
  • Influenza
  • Mumps
  • Rubella
  • Shingles
  • Chicken pox
  • Hepatitis
  • Herpes virus

Symptoms of vestibular neuritis

Symptoms of vestibular neuritis include:

  • Sudden attack of vertigo — feeling as if you are swaying or spinning
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty with vision or balance
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Trouble concentrating

Symptoms typically come on suddenly and can range from mild to severe. In some cases, the symptoms present so severely that you could have trouble walking or standing up.

Severe symptoms typically subside within a few days, while any less-severe symptoms may gradually subside over a few weeks.

Diagnosis of vestibular neuritis

Vestibular neuritis is diagnosed in a physical exam with your doctor. Your doctor may perform the following tests:

  • Hearing test
  • Balance test
  • A test to evaluate your ability to focus while moving your head
  • Rapid eye movement test — if you do not have any other neurological symptoms, rapid eye movements in the direction of the unaffected ear may be a sign that you have vestibular neuritis

To rule out other medical causes of your symptoms such as stroke, allergies or other medical conditions, your doctor may order an MRI scan of your brain.

Treatment of vestibular neuritis

Treatment for vestibular neuritis depends on what is causing your symptoms. The goal of treatment for vestibular neuritis is to relieve your symptoms.

  • Antibiotics or antiviral medications — used to treat vestibular neuritis caused by an underlying infection
  • Benadryl, Antivert, Ativan and Valium — can help relieve dizziness and nausea caused by vestibular neuronitis
  • Vestibular rehabilitation — your doctor and care team will teach you exercises that can help you adjust to changes in balance

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