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Home > Wellness > Health Library > Labyrinthitis and Vestibular Neuritis
(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.
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
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.
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
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.
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Learning about labyrinthitis:
Living with labyrinthitis:
The American Hearing Research Foundation helps pay for
research into hearing and balance disorders and also helps to educate the
public about these disorders. On their website you can find general
information on many common ear disorders, including descriptions, causes,
diagnoses, and treatments. References are also included as a source for further
information. The American Hearing Research Foundation also publishes a
newsletter, available by subscription, as well as a number of pamphlets on a
variety of topics.
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
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.
September 12, 2013
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & Barrie J. Hurwitz, MD - Neurology
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