Understanding vestibular labyrinthitis or vestibular neuritis
What it is
Labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis are a result of an infection causing inflammation of the inner ear and the nerves communicating balance information to the brain. Infections of the inner ear are usually viral but can result from a bacterial infection as well. Many people associate inner ear problems with pain, but that is not actually the case. Infections of the middle ear cause pain around the ear drum; like you would have with swimmer’s ear; pain often is not present with inner ear viruses.
In addition to enabling you to hear, your inner ear relays information to the brain regarding head and body movements during activities of daily living. Inflammation of the vestibular (balance) nerve disrupts vital signals that your brain uses to help you both maintain balance and move your eyes the right speed and direction while moving your head to keep your vision clear. A person with vestibular neuritis may also experience disruption of hearing, due to inflammation of the cochlear (hearing) nerve.
Symptoms of labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis include dizziness, vertigo, vomiting, unsteadiness and imbalance, falls, visual difficulty, and impaired concentration. Symptoms may range from mild to severe, often interrupting normal activities of daily living. The onset of symptoms is usually very sudden and without warning and are present upon waking in the morning. These types of symptoms can be very scary and upsetting, and many people seek medical treatment immediately. Symptoms may last a few weeks, and some people are then symptom free; other people are left with chronic dizziness and imbalance because of damage to the nerves involved. Chronic symptoms include difficulty reading, walking in a store, being in crowds, standing in the shower with your eyes closed, using a computer, turning your head and trunk, or simply talking to people while having dinner. During the acute phase, medications are often given to control nausea and decrease the symptoms of dizziness. Examples of medications include Benadryl, Antivert, Meclizine, Phenergan, and Valium. Other medications may be prescribed such as antiviral drugs, antibiotics, and steroids, especially if there is a middle ear infection involved. Medications, such as Meclizine or Valium are given for dizziness relief, but do not cure the symptoms.
If symptoms persist
If symptoms persist, further testing may be done to determine nerve damage and to rule out any other pathology that may be causing the present symptoms. Patients suffering from chronic symptoms (after a few weeks) should be evaluated by a certified specialist in the field of vestibular and balance rehabilitation for an assessment of their dizziness, vertigo, imbalance, and fall risk. After determining the extent of a patient’s dizziness and balance scores, patients undergo a comprehensive vestibular and balance rehabilitation program tailored to meet their individual needs. Vestibular and balance rehabilitation involves specific exercises to strengthen the relationship of the involved inner ear and the brain’s ability to process the information it receives from the vestibular system.