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Labyrinthitis is a disorder caused by an infection that inflames the inner ear and the nerves connecting it to the brain. The labyrinth is part of the inner ear and contains fluid-filled channels responsible for balance and hearing, so labyrinthitis can progress to affecting the whole body if not treated as soon as possible.

Boots Hearingcare takes a look at what labyrinthitis is and, more importantly, how it's treated.

What are the symptoms?

The onset of symptons assoicated with this condition is often sudden and intense, typically lasting a few days. However, you should seek medical attention if these symptoms continue.

The most common symptoms include:

  • Dizziness
  • Vertigo (as if everything is spinning around you)
  • Loss of balance
  • Problems standing up or walking
  • Nausea or actually being sick
  • Tinnitus (a ringing or buzzing sensation in your ear)
  • Hearing loss

If you have a hearing condition and experience sudden hearing loss in one ear, contact your GP immediately – even if there are no additional symptoms.

Remember to also avoid driving, using tools and machinery, or working at heights if you’re feeling dizzy.

What are the causes?

The development of this condition is generally linked to a viral infection, and occasionally, bacterial factors come into play. This is due to infection spreading from the airways, mouth, nose or chest into the inner ear, causing inflammation of the labyrinth.

Bacterial cases are more common in children prone to otitis, making them more susceptible to middle-ear infections. Similarly, children recovering from meningitis face an increased risk due to the potential passage of bacteria to the inner ear.

Bacterial labyrinthitis is more common in children who are otitis-prone – that is, more susceptible to middle-ear infections. Likewise, if your child is recovering from meningitis, they are also at an increased risk – given the likelihood of bacteria passing through to the inner ear.

What is the diagnosis?

Your GP will be able to diagnose labyrinthitis and help you work out a treatment plan, so it’s important to arrange a visit with them as soon as you start exhibiting symptoms.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the symptoms of labyrinthitis can be associated with several other hearing conditions. Part of confirming a labyrinthitis diagnosis involves ruling out other possible factors, such as:

A medical professional will conduct tests on both your balance and hearing, as well as looking for signs of infection or inflammation. You should also be prepared to answer questions about your medical history, which can be a huge help in receiving a confirmed diagnosis.

Frequently asked questions

How long does Labyrinthitis last?

Labyrinthitis usually lasts about a week, and then symptoms start to abate.

There is something known as chronic labyrinthitis, which can last for months or even years, but the symptoms are much less severe and unlikely to pose too much of a problem when it comes to everyday life.

What is the difference between labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis?

Because they both affect the inner ear and have similar symptoms, labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis are often confused.

In fact, the only real difference between the two is which nerves they affect. Vestibular neuritis solely targets the nerve responsible for balance, with labyrinthitis causing problems for both this nerve and the nerve for hearing as well.

For this reason, labyrinthitis is easily distinguishable from vestibular neuritis if a patient experiences hearing loss or tinnitus alongside problems walking or standing upright.

Can labyrinthitis recur?

In short, yes. Some people may find that their labyrinthitis symptoms come and go. If you are prone to recurring ear infections, episodes of labyrinthitis can reoccur, often alongside conditions like Meniere’s disease, persistent colds, and respiratory infections.

Those with untreated autoimmune conditions are also at a higher risk, as the body may mistake healthy inner ear tissues for an active infection, triggering an immune response.

While most cases of labyrinthitis resolve within a few weeks, the duration may vary based on the cause and severity. Seeking prompt consultation with a specialist is essential for reassurance, proper diagnostic tests, and effective treatment.

I keep getting recurring labyrinthitis, what can i do to stop?

Recurring labyrinthitis, known as chronic labyrinthitis, can be challenging. If you're having ongoing episodes, consult a healthcare professional for a thorough examination. Manage chronic labyrinthitis by identifying triggers, adopting a low-salt diet, staying hydrated, managing stress, and following prescribed medications or therapies recommended by your healthcare provider. Seeking professional guidance will help tailor a strategy to your specific condition.