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Feeling dizzy or finding it hard to hear? You may have labyrinthitis.

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…

Labyrinthitis symptoms

The onset of labyrinthitis is often sudden and severe, with symptoms usually lasting a few days. However, you should seek medical attention if they do not get better after this time.
The most common symptoms of labyrinthitis 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.

Labyrinthitis causes

Labyrinthitis is usually brought on by a virus but sometimes by bacteria. This is due to infection spreading from the airways, mouth, nose or chest into the inner ear, causing inflammation of the labyrinth.
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.

Labyrinthitis 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. If you’re prone to recurring ear infections, repeat episodes of labyrinthitis can manifest themselves, along with Meniere’s disease, frequent, persistent colds and respiratory infections.

You’re also more likely to develop labyrinthitis if you have an untreated autoimmune condition, with the body mistaking healthy inner ear tissues for an active infection and attempting to combat this.
In most cases of labyrinthitis, symptoms will go away after a few weeks. But this process may take longer depending on the cause and severity of the condition, so make sure to see a specialist right away for reassurance, proper tests and effective treatment.

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