woman with headache
Labyrinthitis can set in quickly, almost suddenly. It affects your hearing, and sometimes your vision. It can make you lightheaded, throw off your balance and spin you into nauseous vertigo.

It makes all travel difficult, even walking in a straight line.

Fortunately, it is usually a temporary condition and long-term effects like hearing loss are generally rare. But the more you know about it, the easier it will be to face it and treat it.

What is labyrinthitis?

Labyrinthitis is caused by infections in the inner or middle ear.

It begins with an inflammation of the vestibular nerve —a condition known as vestibular neuritis. There are two such nerves in your inner ears, and both send signals to the brain. These signals affect your balance, bodily control, and how you navigate through space.
The labyrinth is located in the inner ear, and includes a set of delicate channels, tubes and sacs, which are filled with fluid. The fluid moves whenever your head does; telling your brain where you are located and how you are moving. The channels also connect to the cochlea, which is located near the eardrum. It sends sound wave signals to the brain which interpret what you are hearing.

When middle ear infections occur the channels in the vestibular system become inflamed, and it can affect both sets of signals — movement and sound.

Lost balance occurs when one ear sends signals to the brain which are different than the ear opposite it. This confusion results in dizziness, especially when you move your head suddenly. Labyrinthitis headaches are common too, and it can also result in vertigo — the feeling that you’re moving when you’re really not.
inflammation of the inner ear

What are some labyrinthitis symptoms?

Both vestibular neuritis and labyrinthitis are usually temporary and alleviated after a few weeks. Though sometimes they can last for longer.

Vestibular neuritis is more common, but its inner ear virus symptoms are similar to labyrinthitis. Both can make you feel dizzy and sick. Generally, vestibular neuritis affects your balance and movement, while labyrinthitis affects both your balance and your hearing.
The most common symptoms are:
  • hearing loss
  • pressure and pain inside your ears
  • fluid discharged from your ear
  • difficulty focusing
  • mild headaches
  • lightheaded floating
  • blurry vision
  • unsteadiness
  • loss of balance
  • a change in the way you walk
  • and vertigo
It may be incredibly challenging just to walk in a straight line. Some people cannot stay upright. Others faint.

These symptoms are often accompanied by a temperature from the infection, nausea and vomiting from the spinning sensation, a general feeling of being sick, and a ringing in your ears (known as tinnitus).

Finally, when these symptoms arrive in tandem, many people experience symptoms of labyrinthitis anxiety.

What causes labyrinthitis?

Woman with an ear ache
Labyrinthitis is caused by a viral or bacterial infection that spreads into the ear. It can be caused by viral infections in the nose, mouth, chest, and upper respiratory region. Labyrinthitis is not contagious or transmittable. However, spreading a cold or flu may trigger it.

Age is certainly a contributing factor. Most cases of viral labyrinthitis occur in adults aged 30-60. But labyrinthitis can occur at any age. Men and women are affected equally.

Smoking, alcohol, and stress can also increase your susceptibility. People with autoimmune conditions also experience it more frequently.

Should I be worried about labyrinthitis?

The good news is, labyrinthitis typically occurs as a single episode only. Though it can be intense for days, it rarely blows up into a chronic condition, and for most people, regular hearing and balance quickly return. Better still, most people can be treated at home. So if you rest in bed for a few days — through the early stages — the worst of it will pass, and labyrinthitis stress will pass with it.

Nonetheless, if viral labyrinthitis treatment is ignored it can result in complications and long-term effects. Though again, they are rare. Occasionally, labyrinthitis damages affected ears. If the cochlea is damaged, for instance, you may require an implant.

Permanent hearing loss is more common as a result of a related condition — bacterial labyrinthitis. This is different than the labyrinthitis virus, and it must be treated with antibiotics.

Some people do experience vertigo for years. This is known as chronic labyrinthitis. (Acute labyrinthitis is a temporary condition).

Should I see a doctor for labyrinthitis?

If you have labyrinthitis symptoms, it is important to see a doctor to determine the cause(s). As noted, there are multiple forms and many related conditions tied to it. Symptoms can also start suddenly, so the sooner you see a doctor, the better.

You should certainly call and make an appointment if your symptoms do not improve in a few days’ time, or are getting worse, or if you develop new symptoms. If you wake up and experience any form of hearing loss, you should go immediately. You may also need to see an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist.
man with an ear ache
More serious symptoms should also lead you to seek immediate medical attention. These include double vision, fever and weakness, fainting and convulsions. Again, these may be related and tied to other conditions.

How is labyrinthitis treated?

Labyrinthitis treatment typically includes a combination of medication, rest and exercise. Time is also an important labyrinthitis cure. Symptoms generally improve within 1-6 weeks, and many people recover fully within two months.
Your doctor may prescribe medicine for labyrinthitis, an anti-inflammatory, and perhaps cortisone. You may also need to take other medications, motion-sickness tablets, sedatives, or antihistamines on your own at home.

It is important to get rest, but physical therapy and special-focused exercises will also help. A specialist (such as a physiotherapist) can direct you through this type of treatment. It often includes exercises geared toward eye movement, coordination, balance, and strength.

What helps labyrinthitis?

Given time, labyrinthitis will generally improve on its own. That said though, there are some simple things you can do to ease the symptoms.
  • Avoid sudden movements.
  • Hold your focus on solid, fixed objects. Try not to pan side to side.
  • Avoid bright lights and overwhelming noise.
  • Any sets of flickering lights may prove troublesome (including TVs).
  • Stay away from heights (and ladders).
  • If you feel uneasy sit down, close your eyes, and be still.
  • Avoid driving and operating machinery.
  • Remove things on the floor you may trip on.
  • Make your bathroom slip-proof.
  • If you feel dizzy, lie down in a dark room and close your eyes.
  • Stay hydrated and well-rested. Exhaustion amplifies effects.
  • Avoid alcohol. It will make the effects worse.
  • Stay away from air travel. Changing pressures may cause extra discomfort.
  • Do start walking as soon as you’re able; activity is the best medicine. 
  • Start short and bring someone with you for support.
  • But don’t try to move quickly. It can throw off your balance.
  • Again, practice focusing on one thing, rather than looking around.
  • Start carrying sunglasses with you.

Does labyrinthitis reoccur?

Most people recover completely from labyrinthitis. Although reoccurrences can happen, it is generally a milder version. Vertigo can also occur in a number of challenging situations and environments.

Physical therapy is generally the best way to improve the condition.