What is Vestibular Neuritis?

Vestibular neuritis is a consequence of inflammation of the vestibular nerve located in the semicircular canals of the ear. This is the nerve that sends signals to the brain related to balance. When the vestibular nerve becomes swollen, these signals are not properly communicated, resulting in dizziness and vertigo.

The particular type of vertigo experienced by people with vestibular neuritis is called peripheral vertigo. It’s the most common type and can cause earache, vomiting, nausea and unsteadiness, as well as an overall feeling of disorientation.

Vestibular neuritis is sometimes referred to as vestibular neuronitis.   

What causes Vestibular Neuritis?

In the majority of cases, vestibular neuritis is caused by a viral infection, whether in the ear itself or another part of the body. So one of the most common viral infections could very well be the source, including measles, flu, rubella, chicken pox, shingles and mumps.

Diagnosis

Before diagnosing vestibular neuritis a doctor will first rule out the more serious causes of vertigo and dizziness, including a stroke or a neurological condition. This is usually done by getting you to perform certain movements.

If you are worried that you may be having a stroke, call 999 immediately. 

An examination may see the doctor look at your eyes, as they can indicate whether your balance is working properly. Your eyes may be flickering involuntarily. In certain circumstances it may also involve an MRI or CT scan. 
 
To narrow down which particular nerves in the ear are affected, your hearing will then be tested.  
woman having her hearing tested

Treatment

While there’s no established treatment for vestibular neuritis, as it’s caused by viral infection the most common treatment is a course of antibiotics or other antiviral medication.  

There are certain medications which can also be prescribed for the nausea and dizziness associated with vestibular neuritis.
  • Benadryl
  • Ativan
  • Diazepam such as Valium.
  • If you become severely dehydrated through constant vomiting, intravenous fluids may also be suggested.   

If, after a couple of weeks, there’s no sign of symptoms subsiding, vestibular rehabilitation therapy may be required, which entails doing gentle movements to assist your brain in adjusting to changes in inner ear balance. 

Vestibular Neuritis versus Labrynthitis

As the symptoms of labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis are rather similar, the two terms were once interchangeable. However, specific terms are now used by audiologists and other experts to describe these two conditions. 

As we’ve said, vestibular neuritis is caused by inflammation of the vestibular nerve, and is often linked to a viral infection. As the name suggests, labyrinthitis is an inner ear infection resulting in inflammation of the labyrinth - a delicate structure deep inside the ear.

While both conditions affect the balance, causing dizziness and vertigo, labyrinthitis is distinguished by the fact that it also results in tinnitus and mild to total hearing loss, whereas vestibular neuritis does not.

Vertigo, tinnitus and hearing loss are also symptoms of Ménière's disease, a rare condition also affecting the inner ear.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of vestibular neuritis, or any other of the ear conditions mentioned above, make an appointment with your GP or book a hearing test with one of our hearing specialists.    

Frequently asked questions

How long does Vestibular Neuritis last?

Although the severe initial symptoms of vestibular neuritis can be unsettling, they only usually last for between two and three days, with full recovery taking around three weeks. Do bear in mind though that some people experience occasional dizziness for several months.

What viral infection can cause Vestibular Neuritis?
Vestibular neuritis can be caused by viral infections such as flu, measles, chicken pox, mumps, rubella and shingles. It can also be made worse by stress. 
What are the most common symptoms of Vestibular Neuritis?
  • Vertigo or dizziness
  • Poor balance
  • Eye flickering
  • Earache
  • Nausea
Vestibular neuritis does not affect your hearing.

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