The labyrinths, from a physiological standpoint, are canals in the inner ear that allow for the passage of fluid. When these function properly, they affect how we hear and also provide us with a sense of balance. Labyrinthitis is a relatively common condition in which the labyrinths of one or both ears become inflamed. It is most often noticed by people feeling suddenly dizzy, or nauseous. Labyrinthitis is difficult to treat, since the cause is not always obvious, and it can persist for a few weeks to few months.
Some known causes of labyrinthitis include bacterial and viral infections, seasonal allergies, decompression sickness, or foreign matter blocking the ear. When foreign matter is the cause, or even a wax plug formed by the ear, this is usually easily treated and removed. When bacterial infection is the cause, it can be treated by antibiotics.
Recent medical literature suggests that the virus group most likely to cause labyrinthitis is the Herpes group. This includes many viruses, not simply those transmitted sexually. Labyrinthitis may occur after a long respiratory infection. When labyrinthitis is of viral origin, it may be more difficult to treat. There are often no other symptoms present beside dizziness, nausea, and inability to balance. Viruses are notoriously challenging to treat, too, because they don’t respond to antibiotics. In these cases, labyrinthitis of unknown origin is usually addressed by treating the symptoms.
Disturbed balance can create in many a sense of nausea or “seasickness.” The most common medication recommended to reduce nausea is the over the counter product meclizine. This is also recommended for people who get car sick or seasick, and it does seem fairly effective. The downside of meclizine is that often makes people feel tired or sleepy, and driving or operating machinery while taking it may not be advisable.
In some people, labyrinthitis may persist for months, especially when it is of allergic origin. It has also been indicated in inducing panic in some people, and has been related to anxiety disorder and depression. A constant sense of being off-balance can have a very disorienting affect on the mental processes and sense of mental well-being.
Sometimes people have such severe panic from labyrinthitis that they may require mild anti-anxiety medication like tranquilizers, or antidepressants like Prozac® and Zoloft®. Treatment with tranquilizers is questionable when labyrinthitis persists, because most sedatives are highly addictive. They may further add to a sense of drowsiness if anti-nausea symptoms are addressed with meclizine or other antihistamines.
Despite sometimes being a long-lasting condition, most people with labyrinthitis are affected for only a brief period of time. Most cases will resolve in about six weeks time and don’t lead to complications. It is a good idea to see a physician if you are suddenly having dizzy spells and nausea as this can indicate a number of other conditions.