Labyrinthitis is a disease of the inner ear. It is associated with an acute onset of hearing loss and severe vertigo – a sensation that the room is spinning or that the head is spinning inside a still room.

Labyrinthitis is thought to be due to viral infections that cause inflammation in the inner ear, but no cause has been definitely proven.

In rare cases, labyrinthitis can also be due to a bacterial infection of the inner ear, but this is often associated with other more severe diseases such as meningitis.

Diagnosing Labyrinthitis

Labyrinthitis often follows other illnesses such as upper respiratory infection, ear infection or sinusitis.

It is also associated with symptoms related to the hearing and balance portions of the inner ear, including:

  • Mild hearing loss to complete deafness
  • Vertigo lasting anywhere from a few hours to several days
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tinnitus
  • Pressure or sensation of fullness in the ear
  • Imbalance
  • Visual disturbances from the inability of the eyes to remain still

In making a diagnosis, your physician will eliminate other possible causes of dizziness as well as other medical conditions that can mimic labyrinthitis.

A hearing test called an audiogram is also typically required. Additional testing often includes an MRI to ensure that there is no evidence of stroke, tumors, or other anatomical explanations for the symptoms.

Treating Labyrinthitis

Labyrinthitis is treated similarly to sudden sensorineural hearing loss, with high-dose oral steroids.

The steroids often help with the hearing loss caused by labyrinthitis, but their effect on dizziness and vertigo is less well known. Medications to help with nausea and vomiting are often prescribed in addition to steroids.

Additional treatment may also include vestibular therapy for balance retraining or other medical interventions as appropriate.