Labyrinthitis is inflammation of the labyrinth — part of your inner ear. It can cause vertigo, hearing loss and other symptoms. Possible treatments include antibiotics, antivirals or steroid medications. In rare cases, untreated labyrinthitis can lead to long-term balance issues and permanent hearing loss. Because of this, prompt treatment is essential.
Labyrinthitis is an inner ear infection characterized by inflammation of the labyrinth. The labyrinth is the inner ear system responsible for your hearing and sense of balance. When your labyrinth or one of the nerves inside your labyrinth is inflamed or irritated, hearing and balance can be affected. This is because your brain tries to make sense of mismatched information between your healthy labyrinth or nerve and your infected one.
Labyrinthitis is closely related to vestibular neuritis, another inner ear condition. Labyrinthitis refers to swelling of both branches of the vestibulocochlear nerve (the vestibular and cochlear portions), or inner ear (labyrinth), which affect balance and hearing. Vestibular neuritis refers to swelling of one branch of the vestibulocochlear nerve (the vestibular portion), which affects balance.
While labyrinthitis can affect people of all ages, the condition is most common in adults between the ages of 30 and 60. People assigned female at birth (AFAB) are twice as likely as people assigned male at birth (AMAB) to develop labyrinthitis.
Labyrinthitis is inflammation of the inner ear labyrinth. Vertigo, a common symptom of labyrinthitis, causes a person to feel as though their surroundings are spinning.
Labyrinthitis is usually not dangerous unless it goes untreated. Without prompt and proper care, labyrinthitis can lead to hearing loss, increased risk of falling and permanent damage to your inner ear.
Permanent hearing loss is a common side effect in children who develop labyrinthitis as a complication of the brain infection meningitis. In cases like this, hearing may be restored with a cochlear implant.
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People with labyrinthitis may experience a sudden onset of symptoms, including:
In most cases, labyrinthitis is caused by a virus, though it can sometimes be caused by bacteria. The most common causes include:
Having a cold or flu can trigger labyrinthitis. You also have a higher risk of developing labyrinthitis if you:
Your healthcare provider will perform a physical examination and ask you about your symptoms and medical history. They may also order tests to assess your hearing, balance and other nervous system functions.
There are several other conditions that have the same symptoms as labyrinthitis, so your healthcare provider will need to rule them out. They may do this by running certain tests, including:
Labyrinthitis treatment depends on the root cause of your condition. For example, if your labyrinthitis is due to a virus, your healthcare provider will likely prescribe antiviral medications. If bacteria is the culprit, then antibiotics will be given. Additionally, corticosteroids may be recommended to reduce nerve inflammation, and medications to control dizziness and nausea (such as diphenhydramine or fexofenadine) may be prescribed on a short-term basis.
If you’re still having labyrinthitis symptoms after a few weeks, vestibular rehabilitation exercises may be necessary to resolve your issues. This type of physical therapy can retrain your brain and help you adjust to the vestibular imbalance.
Labyrinthitis symptoms and their response to treatment can vary from person to person. What works well for one individual may not work as well for you. However, in many cases, antihistamines — such as dimenhydrinate, diphenhydramine or meclizine — can quickly ease uncomfortable symptoms.
You can also try a number of home remedies to reduce discomfort, including:
Because labyrinthitis is usually an underlying symptom of other conditions, the best way to avoid it is to wash your hands regularly and take proper precautions during cold and flu season.
It varies for each person. In most cases, labyrinthitis symptoms ease up within a few days. It could take up to six weeks or longer for your balance to return to normal.
If you’ve been diagnosed with labyrinthitis, you’ll need to recover at home until your symptoms have diminished. This timeline varies dramatically for each person. If you're experiencing vertigo or balance issues, ask your healthcare provider when it’s safe to go back to work or school. Many people benefit from participation in a specialized physical therapy program called vestibular rehabilitation to reduce symptoms of dizziness, vertigo and imbalance.
If you develop any symptoms of labyrinthitis, such as vertigo, nausea or balance problems, you should call your healthcare provider right away. They can help determine the cause of your symptoms and design a personalized treatment plan.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Labyrinthitis can lead to many unpleasant side effects that can diminish your quality of life. Should you develop symptoms, don’t wait until they worsen. Timely treatment can reduce the likelihood that your inner ear issues will turn into long-term problems.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/27/2021.
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