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Dizziness or vertigo is a common symptom of labyrinthitis.

Dizziness or vertigo is a common symptom of labyrinthitis.
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Labyrinthitis is an inflammation of the balancing centre in your inner ear (or labyrinth). It is usually caused by an infection. Symptoms include hearing loss, a spinning sensation (vertigo) and dizziness. Most people feel better within a few weeks.

What causes labyrinthitis?

The most common cause of labyrinthitis is a viral infection, such as from a cold or the flu, or infection with a virus from the herpes group of viruses, which causes chickenpox, shingles or cold sores. Sometimes an ear infection can lead to labyrinthitis.

Less commonly, a bacterial infection, such as meningitis or a middle ear infection, can cause labyrinthitis. Some autoimmune conditions, allergies and medications can lead to labyrinthitis.

Illustration showing inflammation of the inner ear (labyrinthitis).
Labyrinthitis is an inflammation of the inner ear, usually caused by an infection. It can lead to mild or severe dizziness.

Labyrinthitis symptoms

Most people with labyrinthitis feel that the room is spinning. This dizziness is also known as vertigo. It can be mild, or it can be so bad it is hard to get out of bed.

Other possible symptoms include:

  • nausea, almost like sea-sickness
  • a false sense of movement
  • uncontrolled eye movement
  • loss of balance
  • fever
  • ear pain
  • vomiting
  • hearing loss or ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • fluid or pus seeping out of the ear
  • changes in vision, such as blurred vision

Labyrinthitis diagnosis

If you think you have labyrinthitis, you may need to visit your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

Your doctor will talk to you and examine you. The examination may include:

Your doctor may also organise tests such as an EEG, a CT scan or an MRI.

Labyrinthitis treatment

If you have been diagnosed with labyrinthitis, you may not need any treatment.

In some cases, your doctor may prescribe medications such as:

  • corticosteroids to reduce inflammation in your inner ear
  • vestibular suppressants for severe vertigo
  • anti-nausea medications for nausea or vomiting

If your symptoms don’t go away, a specialist physiotherapist can help retrain the brain to interpret balance messages from the inner ear.

You can also help ease symptoms by:

  • resting on your side during dizzy episodes
  • avoiding alcohol
  • drinking plenty of water
  • creating a low-noise, low-stress environment
  • avoiding bright lights

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Last reviewed: May 2019

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