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6-minute read

Key facts

  • Labyrinthitis is an inflammatory condition of your inner ear.
  • Most people with labyrinthitis feel a false sense of movement.
  • The most common cause of labyrinthitis is a viral infection.

What is labyrinthitis?

Labyrinthitis is an inflammatory condition of your inner ear.

An infection causes the labyrinth (a delicate structure deep inside your ear) to become inflamed. This can affect your hearing and balance.

What are the symptoms of labyrinthitis?

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

Other common symptoms of labyrinthitis are:

  • dizziness
  • feeling off-balance — it might be hard to walk in a straight line
  • hearing loss or ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • nausea or vomiting — almost like sea sickness

Other, less common symptoms of labyrinthitis are:

  • a feeling of pressure inside your ear
  • fluid or pus leaking out of your ear
  • ear pain
  • a high temperature (fever) of 38°C or above
  • changes in vision, such as blurred vision or double vision
  • headache

Symptoms can start suddenly. They may be there when you wake up and get worse through the day.

What causes labyrinthitis?

The most common cause of labyrinthitis is a viral infection, such as a cold or the flu.

Infections that affect your whole body, such as mumps, measles and glandular fever, can also cause labyrinthitis.

Less commonly, a bacterial infection can cause labyrinthitis. This can happen as a complication of meningitis or a middle ear infection.

Some autoimmune conditions can also lead to labyrinthitis.

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

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.

When should I see my doctor?

You should see your doctor straight away if you have any symptoms of labyrinthitis, including hearing loss, vertigo or dizziness.

Also see your doctor urgently if you have sudden problems with your vision or a severe headache or pain in your ear.

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How is labyrinthitis diagnosed?

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

  • asking you to move your head rapidly from side-to-side or up and down
  • checking whether you have an ear infection
  • hearing tests
  • checking your eye movements — flickering can be a sign that your balancing system is not working properly

In some cases, your doctor may also organise tests such as:

This can help rule out serious conditions such as meningitis or a stroke.

How is labyrinthitis treated?

If you have been diagnosed with labyrinthitis, you may not need any treatment. Often your symptoms will get better after a few days.

Self help

There are things you can do to help ease your symptoms:

  • lie still during dizzy episodes
  • drink plenty of water if you're being sick
  • avoid noise and bright lights
  • try to get enough sleep

Go for walks outside as soon as you can. It's a good idea to have someone with you until you become confident on your own.

When you're out, keep your eyes focused on a fixed object.

If you feel dizzy, do not:

  • drive
  • cycle
  • use heavy machinery

Do not drink alcohol as this can make your symptoms worse.


For bad cases of labyrinthitis, your doctor may prescribe medicines to treat your symptoms such as:

  • corticosteroids — to reduce inflammation in your inner ear
  • antiemetics — to help stop nausea or vomiting
  • benzodiazepines — to reduce activity inside your central nervous system
  • antibiotics — if your labyrinthitis is caused by a bacterial infection

If your symptoms don't go away, your doctor may refer you to a specialist physiotherapist. They can give you exercises to help restore your balance. This is called 'vestibular rehabilitation therapy'.

Can labyrinthitis be prevented?

Labyrinthitis is usually caused by an infection, and good hand hygiene can help prevent the spread of infections.

Complications of labyrinthitis

Sometimes bacterial labyrinthitis can cause mild to severe hearing loss. People with hearing loss may benefit from a hearing aid or cochlear implant.

Resources and support

If you want to know more about labyrinthitis, you can call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2023

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