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Labyrinthitis is swelling and irritation in the inner ear, a system of cavities and canals, that affects hearing, balance and eye movement.



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Labyrinthitis is caused by damage or impairment of the labyrinth part of the cochlea from:

  • Infection
  • Trauma
  • Inflammation
  • Drugs

Are You at Risk?

Factors that increase your risk for labyrinthitis include:

  • Current or recent viral infection, especially a respiratory infection
  • Allergies
  • Smoking
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Stress
  • Head injury
  • Disease of blood vessels
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Side effects of drugs, including:
    • Certain antibiotics
    • Aspirin
    • Quinine — may be used for malaria treatment

Symptoms of Labyrinthitis

Symptoms can range from mild to severe and last for days or many weeks. Symptoms are usually temporary, but can become permanent, although this happens very rarely.

The most common symptoms are:

  • A spinning sensation
  • Lightheadedness
  • Balance problems

Other symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hearing loss
  • Involuntary eye movement
  • Ringing in the ear

Diagnosing Labyrinthitis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. Your doctor may also perform an ear exam and a neurological exam.

Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:

  • CT scan
  • MRI scan

Your eyes may also be tested. This can be done with an electronystagmogram.

Treatment for Labyrinthitis


Medication to control your symptoms may include:

  • Antiemetics — to control nausea and vomiting
  • Vestibular suppressants — to limit vertigo
  • Steroids — in limited situations, to help control inflammation
  • Antibiotics — to treat a bacterial infection

Without antibiotic treatment, labyrinthitis caused by a bacterial infection can lead to permanent hearing loss or balance problems.

Self-care Measures

Some steps to help you manage your symptoms include:

  • Rest. Lie still with your eyes closed in a darkened room during acute attacks.
  • Avoid movement, especially sudden movement, as much as possible.
  • Avoid reading.
  • Resume normal activities gradually after the symptoms have cleared.

Vestibular Exercises (Vestibular Rehabilitation)

Your doctor may suggest specific vestibular exercises. These exercises use a series of eye, head and body movements to get the body used to moving without the sensation of spinning. You may work with a physical therapist to learn these.

Emergency Treatment

In some cases, nausea and vomiting cannot be controlled. This can result in severe dehydration. You may need hospitalization to receive fluids and nutrients through an IV. You may also need antiematic medication.


Rarely, labyrinthitis may be due to a break in the membranes between the outer and inner ear. You may require surgery to repair the break or if a tumor is causing your condition.

Labyrinthitis Prevention

To reduce your risk of getting labyrinthitis:

  • Seek prompt treatment for any ear problems or infection.
  • Avoid head injury by wearing seat belts and safety helmets.
  • Ask your doctor about side effects of any medications you are taking.
  • Avoid alcohol.


Call us at 434.243.3675.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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