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What is Viral Labyrinthitis?

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  • Written By: Madeleine A.
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2016
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Viral labyrinthitis is an inflammation or swelling of the inner ear caused by a virus. People suffering from this condition experience symptoms such as vertigo, dizziness, and nausea. Although viral labyrinthitis is caused by an infection, it has characteristics of a balance disorder. Patients frequently complain of loss of balance, and the feeling of rotational movement. In addition, rapid eye movement and anxiety can be common complaints.

Although viral labyrinthitis is caused by viruses, other forms of labyrinthitis are related to chronic anxiety. Panic attacks can trigger symptoms, but when the panic attack subsides, symptoms tend to disappear. Treatment for viral labyrinthitis includes exercise, anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines, and antidepressants. In addition, corticosteroids including prednisone are effective in reducing inflammation and symptoms of vertigo.

Sometimes, antiviral medications are prescribes to treat the virus and prevent permanent inner ear damage. Other non-prescription medications used to treat viral labyrinthitis include motion sickness medications and anti-nausea medications. A very effective medication for treating vertigo is called Antivert®. It not only helps alleviate vertigo, it also combats nausea and vomiting. Antivert®, however, can cause significant sleepiness and patients should not drive while taking it.

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Recovery time for viral labyrinthitis can range from one to six weeks, but the condition can be chronic when permanent damage has occurred. During attacks of labyrinthitis, driving and operating heavy machinery can prove dangerous. Even activities such as walking can be risky, as vertigo can develop suddenly and without warning, predisposing the patient to accidents, falls, and injury. While not a life-threatening medical condition, patients can become acutely ill from this condition.

Symptoms of viral labyrinthitis can be similar to other medical conditions such as a brain tumor or stroke. Patients experiencing vertigo should never assume that their symptoms are stemming from viral labyrinthitis, and they need to have a physical examination to rule out other causes of their symptoms. The physician can generally make a diagnosis by taking a detailed medical history from the patient and examining the inner ear.

When an otoscopic ear examination doesn't reveal a cause, the physician might recommend that the patient undergo further testing to determine the cause of his symptoms. An otoscope is an instrument that is used to examine the inside of the ear, and is a very reliable tool for diagnosing disorders of the middle and inner ear. Other diagnostic tests for vertigo include x-rays of the sinuses, and a CT or MRI of the head.

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