Labyrinthitis is inflammation of the labyrinths, which are a series of intricate passages and structures in the inner ear that play a role in hearing and balance. This condition can come on suddenly (called acute labyrinthitis) or can be long lasting (called chronic labyrinthitis). Labyrinthitis symptoms include vertigo (dizziness, sensation of spinning), nausea and vomiting, abnormal eye movements (e.g., nystagmus), temporary hearing loss, and ringing in the ears (tinnitus).

Labyrinthitis affects the bony labyrinth, also called the osseous labyrinth, and the fluid-filled membranous labyrinth and involves the cochlea (and cochlear duct), the vestibule (including the utriculus and the sacculus), and the semicircular canals (and semicircular ducts). Common causes for labyrinthitis include viral or bacterial infections (e.g., middle ear infection [otitis media]) and injuries (trauma). The condition also can develop as a complication of the common cold, flu (influenza), or meningitis (inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain).

To diagnose vertigo caused by labyrinthitis, your physician will take a history of symptoms and perform a physical examination. In some cases, diagnostic tests (e.g., neurological tests, imaging tests, blood tests) are used to rule out other causes for the condition.

Symptoms of labyrinthitis usually resolve without treatment within a few weeks. Labyrinthitis treatment can include antibiotics for bacterial infections and medications to control nausea.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 13 Dec 2009

Last Modified: 13 Oct 2015