Inner ear infections can cause certain parts of the inner ear to become inflamed. These infections can affect a person’s hearing and balance. They often occur when a person has a cold or the flu or if a middle ear infection spreads into the inner ear.
The inner ear is the deepest part of the human ear. It sits at the end of the ear tubes. It is the part of the ear that turns sound waves into nerve impulses. It also plays an important role in helping a person balance.
Inner ear infections can cause the structures of the inner ear to become inflamed, which can lead to a number of symptoms. These include nausea, dizziness, a sensation of imbalance, and hearing impairments.
This article explores types of inner ear infections, looking at their symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment options, and home remedies. It also looks at risk factors, complications, and inner ear infections in children.
There are two main types of inner ear infections: labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis. The following sections will look at these in more detail.
Labyrinthitis is a viral or bacterial infection of the inner ear. It causes inflammation of the labyrinth, which is the maze of fluid-filled channels in the inner ear.
This inflammation can disrupt the transmission of sensory information from the inner ear to the brain. It is this disruption that can cause some of the symptoms of labyrinthitis.
Viral infections are the most common causes of labyrinthitis. Viral labyrinthitis is most common in adults aged 30–60 years. It is also twice as common in females as in males.
Labyrinthitis often follows more common illnesses, such as a common cold or the flu. In some instances, a bacterial infection can cause labyrinthitis.
Vestibular neuritis is an infection of the vestibular nerve. This nerve sits in the inner ear and plays a role in detecting balance by sending signals from the inner ear to the brain.
Vestibular neuritis causes this nerve to become inflamed, which can cause symptoms such as vertigo and nausea.
This infection often comes before or alongside a viral infection. According to an older article from 2009, the reactivation of a herpes simplex virus is a likely cause of vestibular neuritis.
Doctors consider vestibular neuritis to be a benign condition that tends to last for a short period of time before going away without treatment. It can also be a sequela, which is a condition that arises as the consequence of a previous disease or injury.
The different types of inner ear infections often have similar symptoms. The main difference between the symptoms is that hearing loss occurs with labyrinthitis but not with vestibular neuritis. Learn more about symptoms in the sections below.
Labyrinthitis symptoms can appear suddenly and without warning. Common symptoms of labyrinthitis include:
- hearing loss or impairment
These symptoms may last for several days and be quite severe. They often disappear on their own after 1–2 weeks. However, if the problem lasts for a longer period of time, the person may require treatment for their symptoms.
A person who has vestibular neuritis may experience some of the following symptoms:
- problems with balance
Vestibular neuritis symptoms often develop within hours and peak within the first 1–2 days. They are often constant and tend to worsen with head movements.
This condition usually lasts for several days. After this period, the symptoms often disappear with no intervention necessary. However, on some rare occasions, it can take weeks or months for the symptoms to disappear entirely.
Inner ear infections are most common among people aged 30–60 years. They are much less common in children when compared with middle ear infections.
Children may develop an inner ear infection as a result of having bacterial meningitis. Around 20%Trusted Source of children with bacterial meningitis develop hearing problems or issues with balance and dizziness.
Cochlear ossification can also be an issue in children after meningitis. This occurs when bone begins to replace the lymph fluids filling the cochlea of the inner ear after a surgery or infection.
Recent research suggests that cochlear implantation surgery can be a successful treatment option for those who have experienced cochlear ossification.
Because of the risk of deafness, a doctor will often carry out a hearing test in young children who have recovered from bacterial labyrinthitis. They may choose to treat severe hearing loss with a cochlear implant.
A cochlear implant is a small electrical device that does not cure deafness but helps deaf people have a useful representation of soundsTrusted Source to help them better understand speech.
There are multiple reasons that someone may or may not be a suitable candidate for cochlear implantation. Timing also plays an important role. Since labyrinthitis ossificans can begin soon after meningitis and worsen over time, early implementation is the best approach to prevent further complications.
In some rare instances, a doctor may use antiviral medications or antibiotics to treat the virus or bacteria, respectively, that caused the inner ear infection. However, they will often only treat the symptoms of inner ear infections, not the infection itself.
A person may take antihistamines or benzodiazepines to treat vertigo. Antihistamines can also help ease nausea and dizziness.
Over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines include fexofenadine (Allegra), diphenhydramine (Benadryl), and loratadine (Claritin).
A doctor may also recommend antiemetics, such as prochlorperazine, to help control nausea and vomitingTrusted Source, or a vestibular suppressant such as Meclizine. It is also common for doctors to prescribe steroids to treat inflammation.
A person with an inner ear infection may also wish to try some of the following home remedies to help ease the symptoms.
Ginger for nausea and vertigo
Some studies suggest that ginger tea can be an effective treatment for vertigo. Other studiesTrusted Source indicate that ginger is an effective treatment for nausea.
However, it is worth noting that researchers conducted these studies in participants experiencing benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), a different type of vertigo than that which occurs with labyrinthitis. That said, they share some symptoms, including nausea.
Other home remedies for nausea
Some other home remedies that a person can try to help reduce their nausea include:
- an electrolyte replacement sports drink
Most of the research into these home remedies focuses on their effectiveness in treating nausea related to pregnancy or chemotherapy. However, a person may wish to try for themselves to see if the remedies help with nausea related to inner ear infections.
Adults may use OTC drugs, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil), to treat any pain that results from their inner ear infection.
Anyone can develop an inner ear infection. However, there are some factors that can increase a person’s risk of developing one. These include:
- contracting an upper respiratory infection, such as a common cold or the flu
- having a middle ear infection
- contracting meningitis
- sustaining a head injury
- having a respiratory illness, such as bronchitis
- having a viral infection, such as herpes or measles
- having an autoimmune condition
A person’s risk of permanent inner ear damage is low. However, severe inner ear infections can cause permanent damage to different parts of the inner ear.
Permanent damage to parts of the inner ear can cause varying degrees of hearing loss as well as balance problems.
Another possible complication of severe inner ear infections is BPPV. This is a type of vertigo that results from sudden head movements.
BPPV is not a life threatening condition, but it can increase a person’s risk of falling over, which may lead to other injuries. BPPV can also cause serious discomfort and limit physical activity.
A doctor may be able to diagnose an inner ear infection with a balance examination. They may also carry out a complete examination that includes a neurological assessment.
Both the balance examination and the neurological assessment are key, as it is not possible to detect an inner ear infection just by looking inside the ear with an otoscope.
Both labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis share symptoms with a number of other conditions. A doctor may carry out tests to rule out these other conditions, which include:
- Meniere’s disease
- a brain hemorrhage
- damaged neck arteries
- a brain tumor
In order to check for these conditions, a doctor may carry out one of the following tests:
- hearing tests
- blood tests
- a CT scan
- an MRI scan
- an electroencephalogram
A person should contact a doctor as soon as symptoms of an inner ear infection appear.
Despite these infections often resolving without treatment, it is still important that a doctor determines the cause of the condition. Early diagnosis can help prevent complications and lasting hearing damage.
Inner ear infections cause certain parts of the inner ear to become inflamed. They commonly occur when a person has a cold or the flu or if a middle ear infection spreads into the inner ear.
The main two types of inner ear infections are labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis. Both of these inner ear infections can cause a number of symptoms, including vertigo, dizziness, and nausea. A person with labyrinthitis may also experience hearing issues.
Inner ear infections often go away without treatment after a period of time. However, a doctor may prescribe medication to treat the symptoms of the infection.
A person should contact a doctor as soon as symptoms of an inner ear infection appear. This is because early diagnosis can rule out more serious conditions and prevent lasting ear damage.