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What is labyrinthitis?

Labyrinthitis is an inflammation of the labyrinth or nerves in the inner ear. The labyrinth helps you hear and keep your balance. Symptoms can make it difficult to walk or do your normal activities, but are not life-threatening.

What increases my risk for labyrinthitis?

  • Infections: Labyrinthitis usually occurs after a bacterial or viral infection, such as mumps. An infection of the ear or upper respiratory tract, may spread and cause infection and inflammation in the inner ear.
  • Diseases: Tumors in the inner ear or problems with blood supply may also cause labyrinthitis. Conditions, such as motion sickness, may also increase your risk of labyrinthitis.
  • Injury: An injury to the head may increase your risk for labyrinthitis.
  • Medicines: Certain medicines, such as antibiotics, may damage the labyrinth.

What are the signs and symptoms of labyrinthitis?

Signs and symptoms of labyrinthitis are often sudden and severe. Vertigo is the most common symptom. Vertigo is a feeling that everything is moving, swirling, or spinning. You may feel like you are being pulled down to the floor or toward your side. You may also have nausea and vomiting. You may also have any of the following:

  • Abnormal fast movement of the eyes
  • Pale, cold, or sweaty skin
  • Tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ears) or hearing loss

How is labyrinthitis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask you about your symptoms. He may ask you about health conditions, injuries, and medicines you take or have taken in the past. He will examine you. Your healthcare provider may do positional testing by moving your head in different directions. You may need any of the following tests:

  • Body fluid sample: Your healthcare provider may need samples of fluid from a wound or your ear, nose, or throat. These samples may show if an infection is causing your labyrinthitis.
  • Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: This test plays a series of clicks through headsets on your ears. A special machine is used to measure how your cochlea and nerves react to the clicks.
  • CT scan: This test is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your skull and brain. The pictures may show the cause of the labyrinthitis. You may be given dye before the pictures are taken to help healthcare providers see the pictures better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.
  • MRI: This scan uses powerful magnets and a computer to take pictures of your brain. It will also take pictures of the vessels and structures in your head. You may be given dye to help the pictures show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • Electronystagmography: This test is also called an ENG. An ENG is done to test for problems you may have with balance or dizziness. Sticky pads with wires are placed on the skin around your eyes. The wires are connected to a special machine that records information during your ENG. Warm and cool air or water is put into your ears while your eye movements are recorded. Do not drink alcohol or eat a heavy meal before this test. You may feel dizzy or sick to your stomach after the test.

How is labyrinthitis treated?

Treatment will depend on the condition causing your labyrinthitis. You may have any of the following:

  • Vestibular therapy: This is also known as vestibular and balance rehabilitation therapy (VBRT). It is used to help decrease your dizziness, improve your balance, and prevent injuries.
  • Medicines:
    • Antivertigo medicine: This may help decrease dizziness.
    • Antinausea medicine: This medicine may be given to calm your stomach and prevent vomiting.
    • Antiviral medicine: This is given to treat an infection caused by a virus.
    • Antibiotics: This medicine may be given if your labyrinthitis is caused by a bacterial infection.
    • Steroids: This medicine may be given to decrease inflammation.
  • Surgery: Surgery may correct certain problems in the ears. Excess fluids can be removed or drained through a small slit in the eardrum. Surgery may include removing bone or cutting a nerve in your inner ear.

What are the risks of not treating labyrinthitis?

If left untreated, the infection may spread and cause more serious problems. It may cause nerve damage and permanent hearing loss. It may also lead to meningitis (swelling of the coverings of the brain) or a brain infection. You may have a higher risk for accidents or falls. Labyrinthitis may also make it difficult for you to continue your usual activities and may affect your quality of life.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Be calm and take slow, deep breaths.
  • Sit or lie down right away when you feel dizzy.
  • Keep your head as still as possible and do not change positions quickly. Move slowly and let yourself get used to one position before moving to another position.
  • Do not walk without help, drive a car, or operate heavy machinery when you feel dizzy.

Where can I find more information?

  • Vestibular Disorders Association
    P.O. Box 13305
    Portland , OR 97213-0305
    Phone: 1- 503 - 2297705
    Phone: 1- 800 - 8378428

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have ear pain.
  • You feel weak, tired, or lose weight without trying.
  • Your symptoms keep coming back or get worse.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You are unable to keep any fluids, food, or medicine down without vomiting.
  • You have a dry mouth or cracked lips.
  • You have a headache, stiff neck, and a fever.
  • Your heartbeat is fast or irregular.
  • You are unable to urinate.
  • You have blood, pus, or fluid coming out of your ears.
  • You have dizzy spells that last longer than they usually do.
  • You have difficulty speaking or thinking clearly.
  • You have weakness or numbness in part of your body.
  • You have changes in vision or shortness of breath.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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