Inflammation in the inner ear is known as otitis interna or labyrinthitis. It is the part of the ear that contains fluid-filled semi-circular canals, vestibular, auditory, and cochlear nerves, structures responsible for balance and hearing, primarily. Otitis interna is more common in animals but can be found in humans too, mostly as a sequel to otitis media.
Symptoms of otitis interna
Otitis interna usually presents with dizziness, some other associated symptoms are:
- Spinning sensation
- Trouble in walking
- Otalgia in case of nerve involvement
- Loss of hearing, temporary at first later permanent
- Nausea and vomiting
- The feeling of fullness in the ear
- Discharge from ear
Causes of otitis interna
It usually develops due to a viral infection. Viruses may cause inflammation of the nerves inside the brain responsible for balance and hearing. The most common viruses are Influenza, measles, mumps, rubella, herpes, and polio. Other possible causes are:
- Otosclerosis in bones impeding the middle ear can cause otitis interna.
- Barotrauma can result in an injury to structures of the inner ear, leading to labyrinthitis.
You have a higher risk of developing otitis interna if you:
- Drink alcohol
- Have allergies
- Are immunocompromised
- Take aspirin or other over-the-counter medications
- Recently had a viral infection
- Had otitis media in recent past
Complications of otitis interna
Inner ear infections can be treated easily, once diagnosed. In case of misdiagnosis, the inflammation can lead to long term complications such as:
- Hearing loss
- Acute pain in the ear
- Fever that is high grade and rarely touches the baseline
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo
- Lead to Meniere disease that develops years after the otitis interna has resolved
How to prevent otitis interna?
Labyrinthitis can be easily prevented if a few precautionary measures are taken, some of these are:
- Maintain proper hygiene
- Avoid sharing your food and drinks with someone who has an ongoing ear infection
- Avoid smoking
- Vaccinate children against all viruses
Management of otitis interna
In most cases, labyrinthitis resolves itself, but if the symptoms become severe, proper diagnosis and timely treatment is required.
- Your doctor will take a detailed history to look for a viral infection in the recent past. Followed by a detailed examination and investigations to formulate the diagnosis and rule out other suspected diseases.
- An otoscope is used to visualize the ear canal and look for impacted wax or any trauma
- Hearing test to rule out nerve disorders
- Blood tests to confirm an infection
- Ct scan to rule out stroke
Being a viral infection, it completes its incubation period, but some supportive treatment that helps with symptoms include:
- Over the counter pain relievers
- Sedatives like diazepam
- Prescription medications for dizziness and nausea such as meclizine
- Antihistamines for allergies
The symptoms can be managed by some home remedies:
- Avoid smoking and limit your alcohol consumption
- Avoid changing your posture quickly
- Get up slowly from lying down
- Abstain from using bright lights
- Try to sit up in a static position during a vertigo attack
- Physiotherapy for balance is quite helpful
- Warm compresses over the ears can help alleviate pain symptoms
When to consult a doctor?
If your symptoms begin to aggravate and you begin to experience severe balance and posture problems, vomiting, headache, or fever, seek immediate medical care.
How long does an otitis interna last?
It takes about 10 to 14 days for complete recovery if proper treatment is given.
Is otitis interna a life-threatening condition?
No, very rarely does it cause complications. In most cases, it is treated completely.
Is labyrinthitis contagious?
No, labyrinthitis is not contagious but the ongoing viral infection that may have caused it is contagious.