Labyrinthitis is an inflammation of the inner ear due to a virus or bacteria. This inflammation of the inner ear disrupts the transmission of the sensory information to the brain. When it happens, symptoms similar to those of vertigo may be experienced as well as difficulties in vision and hearing.
What causes Labyrinthitis?
The inner ear is made up of sacs and tubes that are filled with endolymph, a fluid produced by the ear. The vestibular nerve and semi-circular canals are some of the major organs found in the middle ear, and they are responsible for hearing and balance respectively. When an infection occurs, one of two complications may arise:
- Neuritis: this is an inflammation of the vestibular nerves and it is associated with balance. Neuritis results in vertigo and dizziness but does not really affect hearing.
- Labyrinthitis: when the entire labyrinth is infected, both branches of the nerves and semi-circular canals, resulting in both vertigo and hearing changes.
Infections rarely affect both ears, and when one side is infected, the brain receives faulty signals. It is these mismatched signals that confuse the brain and lead to vertigo.
Labyrinthitis does not only arise due to a direct infection of the ear, but can also arise from infections in other areas of the body such as:
- Respiratory infections e.g. bronchitis
- Stomach viruses
- Infectious organisms like those that cause Lyme disease
Who is at risk of Labyrinthitis?
The following habits can place an individual at a higher risk of contracting Labyrinthitis:
- Excessive consumption of alcohol
- Extreme stress
- History of allergies
- Some prescription and even over-the-counter medications like aspirin
Signs and symptoms of Labyrinthitis
Symptoms of this condition arise soon after the infection sets in, and the severity varies depending on the extent of infection. Some of the symptoms likely to be experienced include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of balance putting the sufferer at risk of falls
- Tinnitus – a ringing noise in your ear
- Loss of hearing which can sometimes become permanent if the nerves are damaged
- Difficulty focusing your eyes. A number of facial nerves are found in the inner ear, and these can affect vision when infected
These symptoms will usually dissipate as the infection subsides, but even then, you may still experience symptoms of vertigo when you make sudden head movements. If the symptoms do not go away, it may indicate a chronic phase of the infection, which means the vestibular nerve may be damaged.
Diagnosis of Labyrinthitis
Although infection can subside with time, it may be important to see a doctor immediately you experience any of the symptoms before the infection gets too serious. The doctor will be able to diagnose Labyrinthitis through a physical exam and perhaps a neurological evaluation to back the results.
Because symptoms of Labyrinthitis may be similar to other medical conditions, the doctor should rule out other conditions such as Meniere’s disease, brain tumors, migraine, stroke, etc.
Once diagnosed, there are various medications that are available for alleviating the symptoms. Some of these include antihistamines, sedatives, and antibiotics. Other medications that reduce vertigo symptoms may be prescribed to help the sufferer cope with the disease.