Our inner ears contain different sensors, nerves, and fluids that all work together to help us keep our balance when we’re standing and walking. Vestibular neuritis is a condition involving inner ear inflammation that causes dizziness, balance problems, and other symptoms that make it feel like your entire world is spinning.
Neurologist Dr. Maria DeCastro helps patients find relief for vestibular neuritis and the dizziness that can send someone off-kilter. In this blog, she explains this inner ear condition, its symptoms, causes, and what you can do to find relief.
What exactly is vestibular neuritis?
Vestibular neuritis happens when the vestibular nerve in the inner ear becomes inflamed. Our inner ears are responsible for keeping us balanced, so inflammation can cause dizziness and even make it hard to walk in a straight line.
Scientists are still learning exactly why vestibular neuritis occurs, but we do know that infections often trigger it. Many patients report developing symptoms after having the common cold or an ear infection. There’s also some evidence that COVID-19 can trigger vestibular neuritis. Bacteria can also cause inner ear inflammation, but less commonly than viruses.
Vestibular neuritis isn’t associated with any long-term or life-threatening health risks. Still, it can affect your daily quality of life if your symptoms are severe.
Symptoms of Vestibular Neuritis
Symptoms often appear suddenly and can be very disorienting. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Dizziness or vertigo (feeling like the room is spinning)
- Loss of balance or trouble walking
- Nausea or vomiting
- Trouble concentration or “brain fog”
If you’re experiencing unexplained dizziness, loss of balance, or other concerning symptoms, Dr. DeCastro urges you to talk with a neurologist right away. They can help determine the causes of your symptoms and help you find relief.
Vestibular Neuritis vs. Labyrinthitis
You might see the term “labyrinthitis” when reading about vestibular neuritis. These two conditions are very similar, but they have some key differences.
Vestibular neuritis involves swelling of a specific nerve in the inner ear. Labyrinthitis involves swelling of the inner ear labyrinth, which includes the vestibular nerve and other structures that impact your balance and hearing.
Labyrinthitis often causes the same dizziness and balance problems as vestibular neuritis but can also cause tinnitus (a ringing or buzzing sound) or even hearing loss. If you’re having issues with hearing, be sure to mention it to your doctor.
How is vestibular neuritis diagnosed?
There isn’t one single test that can diagnose this condition. Your doctor might ask you lots of questions and perform a few exams to rule out other potential causes of your symptoms.
First, you’ll be asked to share your medical history and describe your symptoms. Your doctor may ask things like:
- What are the specific symptoms you’re experiencing?
- How severe are your symptoms? Are they keeping you from doing regular activities?
- When did your symptoms start? Do they come and go, or do they happen all the time?
- Have you had shingles, a cold, or an ear infection recently?
Your doctor may also perform a physical exam, which includes checking your balance, hearing, or vision. They may recommend an imaging test (like an MRI or CT scan) to pinpoint specific issues in your inner ear.
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Vestibular Neuritis Treatment Options
Most cases of vestibular neuritis will clear up even without medication. But, there are a few different treatment options for long-lasting cases or for patients who have very severe problems with nausea and vertigo.
Some treatments target the underlying cause of vestibular neuritis (like an infection), while others focus more on managing symptoms and getting you back to regular life.
- Antivirals or antibiotics. If your doctor believes your vestibular neuritis is caused by an infection, they’ll prescribe an antiviral (for a viral infection) or an antibiotic (for a bacterial infection) as part of your treatment plan.
- Medication to manage symptoms. There are many different medications that can treat dizziness and nausea, including antihistamines and sedatives. If you’re already taking medication for your symptoms and it isn’t working, talk to your doctor about other options.
- Physical therapy. If your symptoms last longer than a month, your doctor may recommend vestibular rehabilitation, which is a type of physical therapy that can improve balance and relieve dizziness. For some patients, it might take a few weeks to notice results with vestibular rehabilitation. Others might find relief in just a few sessions.
Can vestibular neuritis be permanent?
Most cases of vestibular neuritis are acute, which means they can happen quickly but aren’t permanent.
But in some rare cases, patients can experience chronic vestibular neuritis, which means their symptoms last a long time or keep coming back. Your doctor may run additional tests to make sure there aren’t any other underlying issues with your inner ear. They may suggest vestibular rehabilitation, which is a form of physical therapy designed to recalibrate your balance system.
What do I do if my symptoms aren’t going away?
If you’re concerned that your dizziness, balance issues, and nausea aren’t going away, it’s time to talk to a doctor. A neurologist like Dr. DeCastro can help you develop a treatment plan that can improve your symptoms and help you get back to living daily life.
Tampa patients can click here to schedule an appointment with Dr. DeCastro at her office in Brandon or call (813) 325-1535.
About Maria DeCastro, DO
Dr. Maria DeCastro is a board-certified neurologist who provides generalized neurological care with a special interest in headache medicine and epilepsy. Before joining Florida Medical Clinic, Dr. DeCastro traveled the country as a locum tenens neurologist, providing care for patients in a wide variety of clinical settings.
Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to substitute professional medical advice. Every patient is different, so talk with your doctor to learn what treatment options are best for you.