1. What is vestibular labyrinthitis?
Vestibular labyrinthitis is a combination of the symptoms of vestibular neuritis combined with hearing loss. Vestibular labyrinthritis is an inflammatory disorder of the labyrinth component of the inner ear which controls hearing and balance. The labyrinth is composed of a fluid filled compartment surrounded by an outer bony framework containing membranes which contain and support the peripheral sensory organs for balance and hearing. These organs include the utricle, the sacule, the semi-circular canals and the cochlea. Labyrinthitis occurs when bacteria or viruses invade the membranes of the labyrinth and damage the vestibular and auditory organs. Other causes of damage also exist. These infectious organisms gain access to the labyrinth by way of congenital or acquired anatomical defects of the labyrinth.
2. What are the symptoms of labyrinthitis?
Bacterial and viral labyrinthitis are characterized by a sudden unilateral (one sided) loss of vestibular function, tinnitus, hearing loss, nystagmus (involuntary jerking of the eye ball) and an acute onset of severe and incapacitating vertigo, which is frequently accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Vertigo typically resolves after several days to weeks, however, balance problems may persist for several months. In most cases a history of otitis media or an upper respiratory tract infection precedes the onset of symptoms in up to 50% of cases. Some cases are caused as a result of cholesteatoma or the taking of ototoxic medications.
A rare from of viral labyrinthitis is herpes zoster oticus or Ramsay-Hunt syndrome. The cause of this disorder is the reactivation of a latent varicella-zoster virus infection occurring years after the primary infection. The initial symptoms are deep, burning auricular pain followed by a rash inside of the auditory canal, vertigo, permanent hearing loss, and facial weakness.
3. What is the treatment for vestibular labyrithitis?
A specialized interdisciplinary team of professionals is necessary to treat all of the issues associated with vestibular labyrinthitis. This group of individuals should include an Otologist or Otolaryngologist, and an audiologist, and possibly a vestibular rehabilitation expert.
The California Ear Institute is a leading global center for otological, otolaryngological and audiological treatment. Dr. Joseph Roberson, a board certified neurotologist, has successfully treated thousands of patients with hearing and balance related disorders.
4. What are the consequences of avoiding treatment?
Patients must seek medical treatment for any change in hearing or balance regardless of whether or not vestibular labyrinthitis is suspected to be the source of the hearing loss. Evaluation for beneficial drug treatment or surgery cannot be established without a comprehensive medical examination and associated testing. Avoiding medical evaluation for vestibular labyrinthitis or any other hearing or balance impairment related condition is not recommended, and can lead to permanent hearing loss.
Patients searching the internet for information about vestibular labyrinthitis or any other medical issue should know when reading about individual case histories, that generally it is the patients with the most severe symptoms who either post their own experiences or are included in medical review journals. As a result, it is easy to become overly alarmed and assume the worst. Patients should keep this in mind as they explore the available resources, and look for sources that are certified by HON or other reputable health reviewing organizations. As with all medical conditions, prompt treatment by experienced medical personnel give the best chance for a positive outcome.
If you suspect that you have vestibular labyrinthitis, or you have noticed a change in your hearing, consult a CEI otologist. The outlook for treatment is excellent, once the diagnosis has been made and appropriate treatment is initiated.
Click here to make an appointment with the California Ear Institute to consult with one of our board certified otologists regarding your ear-related condition.