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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Fizza Zulfiqar, MD[2]

Synonyms and keywords: Otitis interna


Labyrinthitis is self-limiting inner ear disorder, often secondary to viral infection. The infection of vestibular neuron and labyrinth primary affects balance and hearing. The condition is commonly called as vestibular neuritis/ vestibular neuronitis. It is basically an inflammatory process of the labyrinth, which is the inner ear, and contains the vestibular system. Thus, it is responsible for sensing the position of the head and body on the whole. It contains fluid-filled channels, which in turn control the balance of the body and hearing. With any movement, the fluid moves in the channels and transmits electrical signals to the brain, thus helping the body to balance. Due to the difference in the transmitted signals from the inflamed and noninflamed ear, derangements can occur, which ultimately makes the person feel dizzy .Along with balance problems, patients often experience hearing loss and tinnitus. Usually caused by a virus, or from bacterial infection,upper respiratory tract infection, labyrinthitis can also occur due to head injury, an allergy or as adverse drug reaction to any medicine. Although rare, all these can cause permanent hearing loss. Labyrinthitis is also known as Vestibular neuritis or acute peripheral vestibulopathy . Mostly, it is a self-limited disorder, with acute short term symptoms like vertigo, nausea, vomiting, and gait impairment, with complete recovery in most patients. Another common condition associated with labyrinthitis is anxiety, which produces tremors, palpitations, panic attacks, and depression. in many cases, panic attacks and anxiety are the first symptoms to be associated with labyrinthitis.


  • Viral labyrinthitis: This is caused by an viral upper respiratory tract infection, which includes cold or flu. Apart from this, many other viruses like the varicella-zoster virus, and the mumps, measles, and rubella viruses can also cause labyrinthitis . This type of disease is the most prevalent.[1][2]
  • Bacterial labyrinthitis: This is second most common after viral infections, often, occurring as a complication of infection in the middle ear,(otitis media)[3]. Often, there is sudden unilateral hearing loss, dizziness, and vertigo. These are more prevalent in children than in adults. The best treatment approach is with antibiotics, which successfully manages the bacterial labyrinthitis and causes full recovery.
  • Autoimmune labyrinthitis: This type of labyrinthitis is rare and lesser prevalent than others.
  • Conditions causing damage to the cochlea inside your inner ear like meningitis, circulatory problems, or Ménière’s disease.
  • Tympanogenic labyrinthitis: It is secondary to middle ear disease (rare intratemporal complication of otitis media). It is rare due to early diagnosis and treatment of otitis media with antibiotics now a days.[3]

Differential diagnosis

Conditions which mimic Labyrinthitis are[4]:

  • Meniere's disease
  • Migraine headache
  • Stroke
  • Intracranial hemorrhage (intralabyrinthine hemorrhage)[5]
  • Damage to the vascular structures in the neck
  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo
  • Brain tumor(schwannoma)[5]

Diseases Clinical manifestations Para-clinical findings Gold standard Additional findings
Symptoms Physical examination
Lab Findings Imaging
Acute onset Recurrency Nystagmus Hearing problems
BPPV[6][7][8] + + +/−
Vestibular neuritis[9] + +/− + /−


  • + Head thrust test
Meniere disease[10][11] +/− + +/− + (Progressive)
Labyrinthine concussion


+ +
Semicircular canal

dehiscence syndrome


+/− + +

(air-bone gaps on audiometry)

Vestibular paroxysmia


+ + +/−

(Induced by hyperventilation)

Vestibular schwannoma[19][20] + +/− +
Otitis media[21][22] + +/− Increased acute phase reactants
Aminoglycoside toxicity


+ +
Brain tumors[24] +/− + + + Cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) may show cancerous cells
  • On CT scan most of the brain tumors appears as a hypodense mass lesions
  • On MRI most of the brain tumors appears as a hypointense or isointense on T1-weighted scans, or hyperintense on T2-weighted MRI.
Cerebellar infarction/hemorrhage + ++/−
  • Based on the time interval between stroke and imaging we may have different presentations
Brain stem ischemia + +/−
  • Based on the time interval between stroke and imaging we may have different presentations
  • For more information click here

Epidemiology and Demographics

  • Adults in the age group of 30 to 60 years are most commonly affected. The incidence of labyrinthitis is around 3.5 cases per 100,000.
  • Viral labyrinthitis, the most common type, is more prevalent in adults, whereas the other types of infections affect the children on a larger scale. This can be assessed by the fact that children under the age of two are more predisposed to develop bacterial labyrinthitis.
  • Bacterial labyrinthitis is overall, less prevalent than other causes.

Risk Factors

Certain conditions can increase the risk of labyrinthitis:

  • Upper respiratory tract infections
  • Infections of the middle ear
  • Meningitis
  • Head injuries
  • Respiratory illnesses like bronchitis
  • Viral infections, like herpes and measles
  • Autoimmune diseases

Natural History, Complications, and Prognosis

  • The symptoms of labyrinthitis usually start suddenly. Occasionally the patient wakes up with these symptoms and they are progressive.
  • There is usually a relief in the symptoms after a few days. Often, the loss of balance is restored in a couple of weeks, but in some cases, it can take longer.
  • In some severe and rare cases, there can be a permanent loss of hearing.
  • Certain factors like cold, previous illnesses, fatigue, menstruation, and respiratory infections can worsen the symptoms.
  • Complications following labyrinthitis includes: labyrinthine fistula, meningitis, cerebellar abscess, mastoiditis etc [25]


The recovery from an attack of labyrinthitis follows the following phases:

  1. An acute period, which includes symptoms like vertigo, nausea, and vomiting.
  2. subacute symptoms, which last for a couple of weeks, followed by a rapid recovery
  3. chronic compensation, which extends over a period of a couple of months or even years.


Diagnostic Study of Choice

Viral labyrinthitis could be a clinical diagnosis. But a variety of diagnostic tests are performed to rule out other diseases. Tests that may rule out other causes of your symptoms include:

  • EEG
  • Electronystagmography, also known as caloric stimulation.
  • CT Scan of the head: to rule out mastoiditis.
  • Temporal bone CT scan: diagnostic techniques in patients with cholesteatoma.
  • Rinne and Weber hearing tests
  • Head MRI
  • Eye test
  • Blood pressure
  • Assessment of balance
  • Culture and sensitivity of the middle ear effusions.
  • Vestibular-evoked myogenic potentials to assess vestibular activity
  • Gadolinium-nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) imaging[25]

History and Symptoms

Labyrinthitis can be suspected when bone conduction loss co-exists with otitis media[3] Labyrinthitis is characterized by the following symptoms and signs including :

  • Dizziness
  • Vertigo
  • Instability of gait
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Tinnitus or ringing in the ears
  • Hearing loss particularly of the high-frequency range
  • Nystagmus[25]

Laboratory Findings

Labyrinthitis could be a clinical diagnosis. As a result, routine blood tests don't seem to be helpful in making any diagnosis. However, if systemic infection is suspected, FBC and blood cultures are indicated.


Viral labyrinthitis causes a sudden onset of vertigo, nausea, vomiting, and sudden hearing impairment. As we know that the antibiotics are not effective against viruses, we must adopt the symptomatic treatment techniques, including medications for vertigo, antihistaminics, and complete rest. With all these measures, the patient usually feels better in a week or two. Nevertheless, acute episodes can sometimes last for up to months. Apart from that, most people will have a full recovery after an episode of viral labyrinthitis if proper and timely vestibular rehabilitation exercises are adopted.

Bacterial labyrinthitis can be effectively treated with antibiotics preventing long term complications [3]

Certain emergency conditions which warrant immediate medical attention are

  • loss of consciousness
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Speech abnormalities
  • Fever
  • Weakness
  • Stroke
  • Vision disorders like diplopia

Medical Therapy

Symptomatic patients need treatment with the following:

  • Antihistamines, whic include drugs like desloratadine and loratadine
  • Antivertigo medications, such as meclizine
  • Sometimes we need to give sedatives to the patienst to ensure rest and recovery, such as diazepam
  • Corticosteroids, like prednisone
  • Prochlorperazine is also commonly prescribed, which helps to alleviate symptoms of vertigo and nausea.

As we know that, sometimes an attack or anxiety or panic attack can aggravate the symptoms of labyrnthitis, it becomes imperative to treat an anxiety disorder and/or depression, simultaneously with the medication for otehr symptoms, to treat any vestibular damage. This can be achieved with benzodiazepines like diazepam (Valium); but caution should be taken to avoid long term usage of these drugs due to associated addiction with this class of drugs and their interference with the vestibular system (Solomon and Shepard, 2002). Likewise the efficacy of corticosteroids such as prednisone, to treat early stages of labyrnthitis has been advocated and they are very frequently used for proper recovery, along with some antiviral medication. It should be understood that the treatment should be started as soon as possible to prevent any permanent damage to the inner ear.


Apart from medical therapy, we can use several lifestyle techniques to relieve vertigo associated with labyrinthitis:

  • Avoiding sudden or jerky movements or any sudden changes in body position
  • Rest during the attack and avoid any movements
  • Smooth and slow movements when trying to get up from lying
  • Avoiding prolonged exposure to screens, and abstain from bright lights in lieu of an attack
  • Keeping the head still, while sitting in a chair
  • Stress management techniques, to mitigate and factors which can aggravate the anxiety or stressors
  • Warm compresses can be used to bring relief from the pain
  • Avoiding smoking and limiting the intake of alcohol

Primary Prevention

  • Resting in a cool dark place, if experiencing any symptoms like dizziness or vertigo
  • Drinking plenty of fluids and adequate hydration
  • Avoiding loud noises and exposure to bright lights which can aggravate the symptoms
  • Adequate sleep, as lack of sleep can bring on an attack

Secondary Prevention

  • Implementation of therapies to allow rehabilitation and improve balance, like physical and occupational therapy
  • Vestibular rehabilitation: This includes various exercises performed under the supervision of a trained physiotherapist, which helps to improve the gait, movements, and functionality. It substantially reduces any residual symptoms from the attack of labyrinthitis. It helps with balancing and makes everyday activities easier.

See also


  1. Karmody CS (December 1983). "Viral labyrinthitis: early pathology in the human". Laryngoscope. 93 (12): 1527–33. doi:10.1288/00005537-198312000-00001. PMID 6606097.
  2. Brill GC (January 1982). "Acute labyrinthitis: a possible association with influenza". J R Coll Gen Pract. 32 (234): 47–50. PMC 1970972. PMID 7086745.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Jang CH, Park SY, Wang PC (February 2005). "A case of tympanogenic labyrinthitis complicated by acute otitis media". Yonsei Med. J. 46 (1): 161–5. doi:10.3349/ymj.2005.46.1.161. PMC 2823044. PMID 15744821.
  4. Thompson TL, Amedee R (2009). "Vertigo: a review of common peripheral and central vestibular disorders". Ochsner J. 9 (1): 20–6. PMC 3096243. PMID 21603405.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Dubrulle F, Kohler R, Vincent C, Puech P, Ernst O (2010). "Differential diagnosis and prognosis of T1-weighted post-gadolinium intralabyrinthine hyperintensities". Eur Radiol. 20 (11): 2628–36. doi:10.1007/s00330-010-1835-2. PMID 20862477.
  6. Lee SH, Kim JS (June 2010). "Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo". J Clin Neurol. 6 (2): 51–63. doi:10.3988/jcn.2010.6.2.51. PMC 2895225. PMID 20607044.
  7. Chang MB, Bath AP, Rutka JA (October 2001). "Are all atypical positional nystagmus patterns reflective of central pathology?". J Otolaryngol. 30 (5): 280–2. PMID 11771020.
  8. Dorresteijn PM, Ipenburg NA, Murphy KJ, Smit M, van Vulpen JK, Wegner I, Stegeman I, Grolman W (June 2014). "Rapid Systematic Review of Normal Audiometry Results as a Predictor for Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo". Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 150 (6): 919–24. doi:10.1177/0194599814527233. PMID 24642523.
  9. Mandalà M, Nuti D, Broman AT, Zee DS (February 2008). "Effectiveness of careful bedside examination in assessment, diagnosis, and prognosis of vestibular neuritis". Arch. Otolaryngol. Head Neck Surg. 134 (2): 164–9. doi:10.1001/archoto.2007.35. PMID 18283159.
  10. Watanabe, Isamu (1980). "Ménière's Disease". ORL. 42 (1–2): 20–45. doi:10.1159/000275477. ISSN 1423-0275.
  11. Saeed SR (January 1998). "Fortnightly review. Diagnosis and treatment of Ménière's disease". BMJ. 316 (7128): 368–72. PMC 2665527. PMID 9487176.
  12. Dürrer, J.; Poláčková, J. (1971). "Labyrinthine Concussion". ORL. 33 (3): 185–190. doi:10.1159/000274994. ISSN 1423-0275.
  13. Choi MS, Shin SO, Yeon JY, Choi YS, Kim J, Park SK (April 2013). "Clinical characteristics of labyrinthine concussion". Korean J Audiol. 17 (1): 13–7. doi:10.7874/kja.2013.17.1.13. PMC 3936518. PMID 24653897.
  14. Lempert T, von Brevern M (February 2005). "Episodic vertigo". Curr. Opin. Neurol. 18 (1): 5–9. PMID 15655395.
  15. Watson SR, Halmagyi GM, Colebatch JG (February 2000). "Vestibular hypersensitivity to sound (Tullio phenomenon): structural and functional assessment". Neurology. 54 (3): 722–8. PMID 10680810.
  16. Hufner, K.; Barresi, D.; Glaser, M.; Linn, J.; Adrion, C.; Mansmann, U.; Brandt, T.; Strupp, M. (2008). "Vestibular paroxysmia: Diagnostic features and medical treatment". Neurology. 71 (13): 1006–1014. doi:10.1212/01.wnl.0000326594.91291.f8. ISSN 0028-3878.
  17. Strupp M, von Stuckrad-Barre S, Brandt T, Tonn JC (February 2013). "Teaching neuroimages: Compression of the eighth cranial nerve causes vestibular paroxysmia". Neurology. 80 (7): e77. doi:10.1212/WNL.0b013e318281cc2c. PMID 23400324.
  18. Hüfner K, Barresi D, Glaser M, Linn J, Adrion C, Mansmann U, Brandt T, Strupp M (September 2008). "Vestibular paroxysmia: diagnostic features and medical treatment". Neurology. 71 (13): 1006–14. doi:10.1212/01.wnl.0000326594.91291.f8. PMID 18809837.
  19. Robert W. Foley, Shahram Shirazi, Robert M. Maweni, Kay Walsh, Rory McConn Walsh, Mohsen Javadpour & Daniel Rawluk (2017). "Signs and Symptoms of Acoustic Neuroma at Initial Presentation: An Exploratory Analysis". Cureus. 9 (11): e1846. doi:10.7759/cureus.1846. PMID 29348989. Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  20. E. P. Lin & B. T. Crane (2017). "The Management and Imaging of Vestibular Schwannomas". AJNR. American journal of neuroradiology. 38 (11): 2034–2043. doi:10.3174/ajnr.A5213. PMID 28546250. Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  21. "Ear infection - acute: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia".
  22. Rettig E, Tunkel DE (2014). "Contemporary concepts in management of acute otitis media in children". Otolaryngol. Clin. North Am. 47 (5): 651–72. doi:10.1016/j.otc.2014.06.006. PMC 4393005. PMID 25213276.
  23. Ernfors P, Duan ML, ElShamy WM, Canlon B (April 1996). "Protection of auditory neurons from aminoglycoside toxicity by neurotrophin-3". Nat. Med. 2 (4): 463–7. PMID 8597959.
  24. Dunniway, Heidi M.; Welling, D. Bradley (2016). "Intracranial Tumors Mimicking Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo". Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery. 118 (4): 429–436. doi:10.1177/019459989811800401. ISSN 0194-5998.
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 Maranhão AS, Godofredo VR, Penido Nde O (2016). "Suppurative labyrinthitis associated with otitis media: 26 years' experience". Braz J Otorhinolaryngol. 82 (1): 82–7. doi:10.1016/j.bjorl.2014.12.012. PMID 26718959.
  • Bronstein A (2002), Visual and psychological aspects of vestibular disease, Current Opinion in Neurology 2002, 15:1–3.
  • Simon NM, Pollack MH, Tuby KS et al (1998), Dizziness and panic disorder: a review of the association between vestibular dysfunction and anxiety, Ann Clin Psychiatry, 10(2):75–80.
  • Solomon D and Shepard NT (2002), Chronic Dizziness, Current Treatment Options in Neurology, 4:281–288.
  • Staab J and Ruckenstein M (2005), Chronic Dizziness and Anxiety, Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg, 131:675-679.

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