Ear infections caused by viruses or bacteria specifically the Streptococcus pneumoniae or Haemophilus influenzae bacteria are quite painful and if not addressed on time, with proper medication can turn chronic.

These infections often lead to blockage of Eustachian tubes-small tubes that run from each of your ears directly to the back of your throat causing a certain amount of fluid to build up inside the middle ear. Whether bacterial or viral, ear infections mostly go away on their own.
Doctor checking a woman's ear

In case of extreme fluid buildup, infections turn painful and recur constantly, causing permanent damage to the ear. Amongst many chronic ear infections, labyrinthitis is a disorder, (inflammation of the inner ear also called the labyrinth), caused by a maze of fluid-filled channels in the inner ear. Inside of your inner ear is a pair of nerves located called vestibular nerves. These nerves relay information about body position and accelerate the brain, about the body’s balance control. When one of these nerves becomes inflamed, it may cause labyrinthitis.

Also Read: Eustachian Tube Dysfunction: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Primarily, there are two kinds of labyrinthitis:

Viral Labyrinthitis

Viral labyrinthitis is more common than bacterial labyrinthitis. Measles, mumps and hepatitis are believed to be potent viruses linked with this infection. Viral labyrinthitis usually affects only one ear and it withers away on its own, but it has more chances of a relapse.

Bacterial Labyrinthitis

Bacterial labyrinthitis is a rare condition when germs penetrate the ear from outside of the ear. A chronic middle ear infection causes bacterial labyrinthitis. It is also referred to as toxic labyrinthitis and is quite serious. There are two ways it affects the auditory system. Either bacterium from a middle ear infection creates toxins that get into the inner ear and cause inflammation and swelling, an infection occurs in the bones surrounding the inner ear releasing toxins that cause pain, inflammation and fluid buildup.

Also Read: Mastoiditis: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Causes Of Labyrinthitis

Labyrinthitis can occur to anyone individual at any age. Potential causes of labyrinthitis are most likely linked to infections. A bout of chronic cold or flu may trigger labyrinthitis. Sometimes repeated viral infection that occurs in the inner ear can also lead to labyrinthitis. Respiratory issues such as bronchitis, bacterial infections, including bacterial middle ear infections that are chronic and painful trigger labyrinthitis. In some cases, consumption of excessive alcohol or smoking results in this disease. Patients with history of allergies that may swell up eustachian tube also are at risk of developing labyrinthitis.


 Symptoms of labyrinthitis can include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Ear discharge and pain
  • Tinnitus-ringing sound in one or both ears
  • Loss of hearing
  • Repetitive, uncontrolled movements of eyeballs-nystagmus
  • Vertigo
  • Slurred speech
  • Fever and fatigue
  • Feeling of losing balance

How Is Labyrinthitis Diagnosed?

There aren’t any specific labyrinthitis related tests that can rule out you have the ailment. To diagnose and rule out, they check other diseases that are co-related. Most of the time, a brain tumor, head injury, neurological disorders, possible strokes or heart disease is ruled out. Sometimes side effects of prescription drugs or substances like alcohol are also checked.


Treating labyrinthitis is usually initiated through a combination medication besides some self-help techniques. Since both types of labyrinthitis infection display similar symptoms, the severe one being bacterial labyrinthitis, treatments for the two are done differently hence relevant diagnosis must be done. 

Possible treatments include antibiotics, antivirals or steroid medications. In severe cases, steroids are injected through the eardrum into the middle ear. Antihistamines to reduce the symptoms of dizziness and nausea, sedatives in case of acute pain and prevent possible repercussions are given. Treating mild cases of labyrinthitis is just rest and hydration. For bacterial labyrinthitis, antibiotic treatment is recommended based on culture and sensitivity test results.