Labyrinthitis (say: “lab-uh-rinth-eye-tus”) is a condition that affects a part of the inner ear called the labyrinth. Normally, the labyrinth helps you keep your balance. When it gets swollen, the labyrinth doesn’t work properly so your brain doesn’t get the right balance signals. Labyrinthitis can make you feel like you are falling or spinning, even though you aren’t.
Symptoms of labyrinthitis can range from mild to severe. You may have symptoms as soon as you wake up in the morning, or they may occur suddenly throughout the day. Common symptoms include the following:
If you have symptoms of labyrinthitis, talk to your doctor. Other conditions that are more serious can cause similar symptoms. Get medical care right away if you experience vertigo with a fever above 101˚F, fainting, convulsions, slurred speech, paralysis, double vision or severe vomiting.
The swelling in the inner ear that causes labyrinthitis often results from a viral or bacterial infection. For example, people often develop labyrinthitis after having an upper respiratory infection, such as the flu or a cold.
Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and examine you. Your doctor may do some tests to be sure that another condition isn’t causing your labyrinthitis.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (also called NSAIDs) are sometimes used to reduce swelling. These include ibuprofen (two brand names: Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (one brand name: Aleve). Steroid medicines are another option to reduce swelling. Your doctor may also prescribe medicine to relieve nausea, vomiting and dizziness. However, even without treatment, the symptoms of labyrinthitis will usually go away after several weeks.
If you have vomiting that is severe and uncontrollable, you may need to spend a short time in the hospital to prevent dehydration.
You will probably need to take it easy for at least a week or two. During this time, avoid activities like driving, climbing or operating heavy equipment. Sudden dizziness can make these activities dangerous. Tips to help you feel better include the following:
Your most severe symptoms will probably get better after the first week. Most people are completely better within 2 to 3 months. Sensitivity to motion may be a problem for several years, especially for older adults. In rare cases, people may have permanent hearing loss. This is less likely if labyrinthitis is treated promptly.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff