Labyrinthitis
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Labyrinthitis

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Definition

Labyrinthitis is an inflammation of the labyrinth in the inner ear. The labyrinth is a system of cavities and canals in the inner ear that affects hearing, balance, and eye movement.

Labyrinthitis

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© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

Causes

Causes include:

  • Viral or bacterial infection (most common cause)
  • Head injury
  • Tumor in the brain or head
  • Disease of blood vessels
  • Stroke
  • Nerve problems
  • Side effects of drugs, including:
    • Aminoglycoside antibiotics
    • Aspirin
    • Quinine

Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Risk factors for labyrinthitis include:

  • Current or recent viral infection (especially a respiratory infection)
  • Allergies
  • Smoking
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Stress

Symptoms

The symptoms can range from mild to severe and last for days or many weeks. Symptoms are usually temporary, but rarely, can become permanent.

The most common symptoms are:

  • Vertigo (spinning sensation)
  • Dizziness

Other symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hearing loss
  • Involuntary eye movement
  • Ringing in the ear (tinnitus)

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Initial diagnosis is based on the symptoms and the results of your exam.

Tests may include:

  • Examination of the middle ear for signs of a viral or bacterial infection
  • Hearing tests
  • Electronystagmogram—a test of eye movement
  • CT scan or MRI scan—to look at structures in the head

Treatment

Treatment may include:

Medications

  • Antibiotics (only for bacterial infection)
  • Medication to control the symptoms, including:
    • Antiemetics—to control nausea and vomiting
    • Vestibular suppressants—such as meclizine, to help control loss of balance and dizziness
    • Steroids—in limited situation, to help control inflammation

Note: Without antibiotic treatment, bacterial labyrinthitis can lead to permanent hearing loss or permanent problems with balance.

Self-Care Measures

  • Rest, lie still with your eyes closed in a darkened room during acute attacks.
  • Avoid movement, especially sudden movement, as much as possible.
  • Avoid reading.
  • Resume normal activities gradually after the symptoms have cleared.

Emergency Treatment

In some cases, nausea and vomiting cannot be controlled. This can result in severe dehydration , which may require hospitalization to receive intravenous fluids.

Surgery

Rarely, labyrinthitis may be due to a break in the membranes between the middle and inner ear. Surgery to repair the break may be required. If a tumor is causing the condition, surgery may also be needed.

Prevention

To reduce your risk of getting labyrinthitis:

  • Seek prompt treatment for any ear problems or infection.
  • Get medical advice on treating respiratory infections.
  • Avoid head injury by wearing seat belts and safety helmets.
  • Ask your doctor about side effects of any medication you’re taking.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Take steps to prevent blood vessel disease or stroke. These include:

RESOURCES:

National Library of Medicine
http://www.nlm.nih.gov/

Vestibular Disorders Association
http://www.vestibular.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

BC Health Guide
http://www.bchealthguide.org/

Canada Health Portal
http://chp-pcs.gc.ca/CHP/index_e.jsp

References:

National Library of Medicine website. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/ .

The Merck Manual of Medical Information. 17th ed. Simon and Schuster, Inc; 2000.

The Roxelyn and Richard Pepper Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. Northwestern University website. Available at: http://www.northwestern.edu/csd/programs/index.html .



Last reviewed December 2007 by Elie Rebeiz, MD, FACS

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


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