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What is Vestibular Neuritis?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2016
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Vestibular neuritis is an inflammatory disease that disrupts the vestibular system, the part of the body that regulates balance and helps the body orient itself in space. This condition occurs when the vestibular nerve becomes inflamed and the signals that normally pass along it are disrupted. The vestibular system is confused and as a result, the patient develops vertigo, which can be described as a spinning sensation that can cause nausea and difficulty walking. Sometimes the onset of vertigo is very rapid.

Cases of vestibular neuritis are usually caused by an infection in the ear. The infection leads to an inflammatory response that spreads to the vestibular nerve, causing irritation and swelling. The symptoms of vertigo develop and can be accompanied with nausea and vomiting. Patients can also develop nystagmus, a twitch of the eye. In people with vestibular neuritis, the twitch is usually in the direction of the affected ear.

Also known as vestibular neuronitis, this condition is closely linked to labyrinthitis, another inflammatory condition that involves the ear. When a patient seeks treatment for things like vertigo, hearing loss, or pain around the ears, diagnostic tests can be performed to learn more about what is going on inside the patient's body. These tests include magnetic resonance imaging to visualize the inside of the ear, audiograms to check for auditory symptoms, and bloodwork to look for signs of infection such as an elevated white blood cell count.

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Treatment of vestibular neuritis is multi-pronged. The inflammation that is causing the vestibular neuritis must be addressed with anti-inflammatory drugs and medications to kill the microorganisms behind the inflammation. In addition, the vertigo must be treated. Drugs designed to reduce nausea can be prescribed and if the patient is losing fluids as a result of frequent vomiting, fluids may be prescribed as well. The patient can also be sent to a rehabilitation specialist who can help the patient manage the vertigo.

When a patient experiences this ear disorder, the vertigo may be brief or it may last for a week or more. It is important to receive treatment to prevent long term damage to the ear, which may interfere with the person's sense of balance. In addition, inflammations in the ear can spread, causing hearing impairment. Patients who experience recurrent inflammations and infections in the ear may want to consult an ear, nose, and throat specialist to find out why these conditions keep reappearing and to explore treatment approaches for preventing them or managing them more effectively.

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