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What is Labyrinthitis?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The labyrinths, from a physiological standpoint, are canals in the inner ear that allow for the passage of fluid. When these function properly, they affect how we hear and also provide us with a sense of balance. Labyrinthitis is a relatively common condition in which the labyrinths of one or both ears become inflamed. It is most often noticed by people feeling suddenly dizzy, or nauseous. Labyrinthitis is difficult to treat, since the cause is not always obvious, and it can persist for a few weeks to few months.

Some known causes of labyrinthitis include bacterial and viral infections, seasonal allergies, decompression sickness, or foreign matter blocking the ear. When foreign matter is the cause, or even a wax plug formed by the ear, this is usually easily treated and removed. When bacterial infection is the cause, it can be treated by antibiotics.

Recent medical literature suggests that the virus group most likely to cause labyrinthitis is the Herpes group. This includes many viruses, not simply those transmitted sexually. Labyrinthitis may occur after a long respiratory infection. When labyrinthitis is of viral origin, it may be more difficult to treat. There are often no other symptoms present beside dizziness, nausea, and inability to balance. Viruses are notoriously challenging to treat, too, because they don’t respond to antibiotics. In these cases, labyrinthitis of unknown origin is usually addressed by treating the symptoms.

Disturbed balance can create in many a sense of nausea or “seasickness.” The most common medication recommended to reduce nausea is the over the counter product meclizine. This is also recommended for people who get car sick or seasick, and it does seem fairly effective. The downside of meclizine is that often makes people feel tired or sleepy, and driving or operating machinery while taking it may not be advisable.

In some people, labyrinthitis may persist for months, especially when it is of allergic origin. It has also been indicated in inducing panic in some people, and has been related to anxiety disorder and depression. A constant sense of being off-balance can have a very disorienting affect on the mental processes and sense of mental well-being.

Sometimes people have such severe panic from labyrinthitis that they may require mild anti-anxiety medication like tranquilizers, or antidepressants like Prozac® and Zoloft®. Treatment with tranquilizers is questionable when labyrinthitis persists, because most sedatives are highly addictive. They may further add to a sense of drowsiness if anti-nausea symptoms are addressed with meclizine or other antihistamines.

Despite sometimes being a long-lasting condition, most people with labyrinthitis are affected for only a brief period of time. Most cases will resolve in about six weeks time and don’t lead to complications. It is a good idea to see a physician if you are suddenly having dizzy spells and nausea as this can indicate a number of other conditions.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By fk1 — On Feb 13, 2014

My mom has been having dizziness for more than a year. She has been to several doctors including a cardiologist, ear specialist, internist, etc. but she still suffers from the problem. She suddenly feels dizzy, and sometimes it's so intense she feels nausea and stress. She has less energy to do her routines. But most of the time, she has minor dizziness for several seconds.

One of the ear specialists prescribed her Betaserc, and since taking this she is less dizzy. But there is something about her problem. In winter the problem is worse than at other times. Do you think she is suffering from labyrinthitis?

Sometimes she wakes up with her dizziness, even from a deep sleep.

By anon272346 — On May 31, 2012

This article doesn't mention that sometimes labyrinthitis causes a secondary occurrence of BPPV which can be treated with a form of physical therapy. My doctor was unaware of this and only through my own efforts did I try physical therapy and finally found relief. I would suggest this something to try for anyone else who has had it for more than six weeks.

By anon145390 — On Jan 23, 2011

how long can it last.

By anon129945 — On Nov 26, 2010

I have had acute labyrinthitis for about 10 days. It started one night while rolling over in bed and my eyes started rolling left and right. Within 48 hours it affected my balance, reaching down, turning in the shower with my eyes closed, etc.

I went to the ER and they prescribed Chlorpheniramine (antihistamine) and Valium (three day supply). It has been 10 days and I still have episodes only while rolling over in the bed. The walking and bending type movement dizziness has subsided. I have been reading it may take weeks to totally subside.

I am not sure to just buy more antihistamine (since my prescribed dosage have been used) or wait it out with no medicine to see if it will resolve on its own. I just thought I would share my recent experience with you.

By anon114394 — On Sep 28, 2010

if you are a school bus driver, how soon after having labyrinthitis, should you drive?

By fudge — On Jul 09, 2009

would it be OK to fly with labyrinthitis

By anon9389 — On Mar 05, 2008

would it be OK to fly with labyrinthitis?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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