Labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis (VN) are disorders resulting from a viral (sometimes bacterial) infection in the inner ear. Labyrinthitis causes inflammation of the labyrinth, and VN causes inflammation of the vestibular nerve. Both viruses result in the same symptoms, however sufferers of labyrinthitis can also experience some hearing loss. According to Vestibular Disorders Association, some of the viruses that have been associated with vestibular neuritis or labyrinthitis include herpes viruses; which cause cold sores, chicken pox and shingles, influenza, measles, mumps, rubella, polio, hepatitis, and Epstein-Barr. There could be many other viruses involved, however due to the delicacy of the labyrinth, it would be impossible to test for these without destroying it. Owing to the fact inner ear infections are usually caused by a virus, this can disappear and lie dormant in the nerve, flaring up again at any time. Currently there is no way to predict whether it will come back. However, in my experience it is quite common for this to happen.
Most cases of labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis clear up on their own in about 2 weeks, after the acute phase of symptoms cease. Some cases of labyrinthitis or vestibular neuritis can continue for up to 16 weeks, but for many, it can be indefinite without the correct treatment. This is when the virus has turned into a chronic condition. General Practitioners (GP’s) usually prescribe medication for labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis, such as Stemetil or Serc, to ‘dumb down’ the inner ear functioning and lessen symptoms, while the body attacks the virus. However, these medications can actually cause more damage because the brain is not given a chance to recover on its own.
If you are suffering with labyrinthitis or vestibular neuritis for longer than the average period, there could be damage to your inner ear and this why you are still ill. If you continue to suffer beyond this period, some GP’s may refer you to an ENT specialist (ears, nose, throat). However, in my experience, an ENT specialist cannot give much more information than the GP, as their opinion is based on the range of subjective symptoms you describe to them. They cannot directly access your inner ear. To receive a correct diagnosis, you must attend an Audiologist for a balance assessment and Caloric tests. Caloric tests directly examine the inner ear for damage, thus being the only way of receiving as accurate diagnosis. You can be referred to an Audiologist by an ENT specialist, or you can contact them directly yourself to arrange an appointment.
The ENT specialist or the Audiologist can at this stage refer you to a Physiotherapist for Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT), which is the only way to fully recover from chronic labyrinthitis or vestibular neuritis. ENT specialists and GP’s are not quick to inform sufferers about VRT. Many of them do not actually know much about VRT (remembering that they are ‘general’ practitioners so do not have in-depth knowledge on all illnesses), or they feel medication is the best treatment. I had heard of VRT while my labyrinthitis symptoms were acute, but I assumed that because my GP had never mentioned it to me, that I was not a candidate. If the medical professionals that you are consulting have not mentioned VRT, take your health into your own hands and begin yourself immediately. Alternatively if you cannot find a specialised physiotherapist in your area or cannot leave your house, I offer an online consultation service.
The psychological aspect of this illness can be just as challenging to deal with. It can be extremely beneficial to visit either a psychologist or a therapist to seek help with anxiety and panic attacks. I am very supportive of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, however this article has great information to help you decide which type of therapist is right for you.