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Labyrinthitis is swelling and irritation in the inner ear. It occurs in the labyrinth of the ear. This is a system of cavities and canals. They affect hearing, balance, and eye movement.


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Labyrinthitis is caused by damage or impairment of the labyrinth part of the chochlea from:

  • Infection
  • Trauma
  • Inflammation
  • Drugs
Risk Factors
Factors that increase your risk for labyrinthitis include:

  • Current or recent viral infection, especially a respiratory infection
  • Allergies
  • Smoking
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Stress
  • Head injury
  • Disease of blood vessels
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Side effects of drugs, including:
    • Certain antibiotics
    • Aspirin
    • Quinine—may be used for malaria treatment
The symptoms can range from mild to severe and last for days or many weeks. Symptoms are usually temporary, but rarely, can become permanent.

The most common symptoms are:

  • A spinning sensation
  • Lightheadedness
  • Balance problems
Other symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hearing loss
  • Involuntary eye movement
  • Ringing in the ear
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. An ear exam and a neurological exam may also be done.

Your ears may be tested. This can be done with:

  • Maneuvers for evaluating for other causes of lightheadedness
  • Hearing tests
Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:

Your eyes may also be tested. This can be done with an electronystagmogram.

Treatment may include:

Medication to control the symptoms, including:

  • Antiemetics—to control nausea and vomiting
  • Vestibular suppressants—to limit vertigo
  • Steroids—in limited situations, to help control inflammation
  • Antibiotics—to treat a bacterial infection
Note: Without antibiotic treatment, labyrinthitis caused by a bacterial infection can lead to permanent hearing loss or balance problems.

Self-care Measures
Some steps to help you manage your symptoms include:

  • Rest. Lie still with your eyes closed in a darkened room during acute attacks.
  • Avoid movement, especially sudden movement, as much as possible.
  • Avoid reading.
  • Resume normal activities gradually after the symptoms have cleared.
Vestibular Exercises (Vestibular Rehabilitation)
Your doctor may suggest specific vestibular exercises. These exercises use a series of eye, head, and body movements to get the body used to moving without the sensation of spinning. You may work with a physical therapist to learn these.

Emergency Treatment
In some cases, nausea and vomiting cannot be controlled. This can result in severe dehydration . You may need hospitalization to receive fluids and nutrients through an IV. You may also need antiematic medication.

Rarely, labyrinthitis may be due to a break in the membranes between the outer and inner ear. Surgery to repair the break may be required. If a tumor is causing the condition, surgery may also be needed.

To reduce your risk of getting labyrinthitis:

  • Seek prompt treatment for any ear problems or infection.
  • Avoid head injury by wearing seat belts and safety helmets.
  • Ask your doctor about side effects of any medications you are taking.
  • Avoid alcohol.

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders

Vestibular Disorders Association


Dizziness - differential diagnosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: . Updated December 16, 2011. Accessed September 10, 2013.

Infections of the inner ear. Vestibular Disorders Association website. Available at: . Accessed September 10, 2013.

Labyrinthitis. American Association of Family Physicians' Familydoctor website. Available at: . Updated February 2011. Accessed September 10, 2013.

Labyrinthitis. Johns Hopkins Medical Center website. Available at: . Accessed September 10, 2013.

12/3/2010 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance : Hillier S, McDonnell M. Vestibular rehabilitation for unilateral peripheral vestibular dysfunction. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;(10):CD005397.

Last Reviewed September 2013

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