Labyrinthitis is an infection of the inner most part of the ear. It can upset the sense of balance and change the whole way that the world appears. It is a common cause of vomiting, nausea and dizziness in adults. Usually labyrinthitis is caused by a viral infection. Rarely its cause by a bacteria.
The dizziness can be severe and result in people falling over when they try to walk due to loss of balance. It is often better on lying still and worse on moving the head. Tinnitus may also occur.
The condition usually improves over several days. It has often gone completely after 3 to 8 weeks. Sometimes it lasts longer than this, causing a significant impact on the individual's life. Your GP can prescribe medication to help with the symptoms. Stemetil (prochlorperazine) is a prescription-only medicine which can help. It can improve symptoms and help people go about their everyday lives.
The labyrinth of the ear is a hollow space within the temple bone of the skull. It has two main parts. These are called the cochlea and the vestibular system. The cochlea converts sound into nerve signals which are sent to the brain. The second part is the vestibular system which controls balance. This includes the semicircular canals which are structures full of fluid. They have sensitive hairs in them which are stimulated as the head turns. Inertia keeps the water still when the head rotates. As the canals move with the head, the hairs in them are stimulated as they move against the fluid. They send signals to the brain which interpret these as movement.
Labyrinthitis can happen after a cold or flu. Glandular fever, mumps or measles are also viruses which can lead to the condition. Rarely a bacterial middle ear infection can cause the problem.
A patient's GP will diagnose the condition based on the signs and symptoms. A hearing test may help with the diagnosis. There is no specific test to find out whether the condition is caused by a viral or bacterial infection. If the patient has other problems such as numbness, weakness, confusion or difficulty seeing they should see a doctor.