While ear infections are most commonly associated with pain in one or both ears, labyrinthitis is an inner ear infection that can cause dizziness and affect balance.
The inner ear, called the labyrinth, consists of two main parts—the cochlea and the vestibular system, which send information from the ear to the brain. An infection in the inner ear causes inflammation of these structures which disrupts sensory information from the ear to the brain causing a host of symptoms.
Symptoms of an inner ear infection can come on suddenly and include:
- Loss of balance
- Hearing/vision problems
While anyone can get an inner ear infection, there are some conditions that may increase the risk such as:
- Infections like the common cold or flu
- Middle ear infections
- Respiratory illnesses
- Viral infections
- Autoimmune disorders
- Head injuries
Viral vs Bacterial Infections
There are several different types of labyrinthitis. Viral infections are more common than bacterial infections, usually caused by a cold or flu spreading to the inner ear. While they are more common, less is known about exactly why they happen, and treatment focuses more on managing symptoms. In most cases, viral labyrinthitis goes away on its own.
There are two main types of bacterial labyrinthitis—serous and suppurative. Serous labyrinthitis results from an infection that causes fluid to build up in the middle ear and move to the inner ear. This type of infection typically produces milder symptoms.
Suppurative labyrinthitis is less common but more serious. It occurs when bacteria from the middle ear enters the inner ear. Symptoms typically affect just one ear and can include severe vertigo, tinnitus, nausea and vomiting, and hearing loss.
Diagnosis and Treatment
While no specific test can diagnose labyrinthitis, your medical professional can conduct a full evaluation to rule out other causes and recommend or prescribe treatment.
For dizziness, over-the-counter antihistamines can help relieve the symptoms, or a doctor might prescribe stronger antihistamines if those are ineffective. If dizziness or vertigo symptoms are severe corticosteroids or sedatives may be necessary. Antibiotics are often prescribed for bacterial infections.
It is important to treat inner ear infections as soon as possible to prevent any permanent damage resulting in hearing loss or chronic balance problems.
For most people, symptoms will resolve in a few days to a couple of weeks and you can feel safe going on walks or taking a yoga class at Torrance-South Bay YMCA without fear of falling or losing your balance.
However, some people experience symptoms that persist for several months. In these cases, more testing and treatment are likely needed. Depending on symptoms your doctor may recommend hearing aids or physical therapy to improve balance issues.
If you have any symptoms of an inner ear infection, it’s important to get checked out by a medical professional right away.
For any additional questions about balance issues or to schedule an appointment with a balance expert, call Torrance Audiology today.