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Inner ear infection - Labyrinthitis

November 2012

Inner Ear Infection

Ear inspectionAn infection of the inner ear is called labyrinthitis. This is because it affects the labyrinth, the innermost part of the ear located deep inside at the point where it connects to the skull.

The labyrinth contains two very important parts; the cochlea which relays sounds to the brain and is therefore responsible for our hearing, and the vestibular system, which is a complex group of fluid-filled channels which are responsible for our sense of balance.

Therefore anything that affects the labyrinth can not only cause hearing loss, but can also cause dizziness, vertigo and the feeling that the world is moving or spinning resulting in a loss of balance.

There are two types of labyrinthitis that both can cause debilitating symptons.

Viral labyrinthitis is caused when a viral infection of the chest and airways such as flu or a common cold spreads to the inner ear. Occasionally labyrinthitis can be caused from diseases such as mumps or glandular fever, but this is quite rare.

The second type of labyrinthitis is bacterial labyrinthitis and this is caused by bacteria which is in the body and has somehow entered the labyrinth perhaps by a break in the thin layers of tissue that separate the middle ear form the inner ear. Bacteria can also get into your inner ear if you have had a head injury.

Symptoms can be very mild right through to so severe that you can no longer remain upright. Along with the hearing loss, vertigo and dizziness already mentioned, other symptoms can include general ear pain, feeling sick, neck pain and stiffness, blurred vision and ringing or humming in the ear.

Often symptoms are mild and the problem disappears by itself after two or three weeks, but in some cases the symptoms can be severe and long lasting.

Treatment is usually based around bed rest and medication to fight the infection. Antibiotics may be recommended but the doctor will also have a range of other medications to use to treat the specific symptoms. For instance, benzodiazepine might be prescribed to reduce the activity inside your central nervous system so that the brain will be less affected by the abnormal signals coming from the vestibular system. Prochlorperazine may be suggested to treat vertigo and dizziness, or an antiemetic may be prescribed if there are symptoms of nausea and vomiting.

In most cases, labyrinthitis will pass without long term problems occurring but in long lasting or severe cases, a visit to an ear, nose and throat specialist is usually recommended.


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