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Labyrinthitis is an inflammation of the inner ear that is often a complication of otitis media. It is caused by the spread of bacterial or viral infections from the head or respiratory tract into the inner ear.


Labyrinthitis is characterized by dizziness or feelings of motion sickness caused by disturbance of the sense of balance.

Causes and symptoms


The disease agents that cause labyrinthitis may reach the inner ear by one of three routes:
  • Bacteria may be carried from the middle ear or the membranes that cover the brain.
  • The viruses that cause mumps, measles, influenza, and colds may reach the inner ear following an upper respiratory infection.
  • The rubella virus can cause labyrinthitis in infants prior to birth.
Labyrinthitis can also be caused by toxic drugs.


The primary symptoms of labyrinthitis are vertigo (dizziness), accompanied by hearing loss and a sensation of ringing in the ears called tinnitus. Vertigo occurs because the inner ear controls the sense of balance as well as hearing. Some patients also experience nausea and vomiting and spontaneous eye movements in the direction of the unaffected ear. Bacterial labyrinthitis may produce a discharge from the infected ear.


The diagnosis of labyrinthitis is based on a combination of the patient's symptoms and history—especially a history of a recent upper respiratory infection. The doctor will test the patient's hearing, and order a laboratory culture to identify the organism if the patient has a discharge.
If there is no history of a recent infection, the doctor will order extra tests in order to exclude injuries to the brain or Meniere's disease.



Patients with labyrinthitis are given antibiotics, either by mouth or intravenously to clear up the infection. They may also be given meclizine (Antivert, Bonine) for vertigo and nausea.


Some patients require surgery to drain the inner and middle ear.

Supportive care

Patients with labyrinthitis should rest in bed for three to five days until the acute dizziness subsides. Patients who are dehydrated by repeated vomiting may need intravenous fluid replacement. In addition, patients are advised to avoid driving or similar activities for four to six weeks after the acute symptoms subside, because they may have occasional dizzy spells during that period.


Most patients with labyrinthitis recover completely, although it often takes five to six weeks for the vertigo to disappear completely and the patient's hearing to return to normal. In a few cases the hearing loss is permanent.


The most effective preventive strategy includes prompt treatment of middle ear infections, as well as monitoring of patients with mumps, measles, influenza, or colds for signs of dizziness or hearing problems.



Jackler, Robert K., and Michael J. Kaplan. "Ear, Nose, & Throat." In Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment, 1998 edited by Stephen McPhee, et al., 37th ed. Stamford: Appleton & Lange, 1997.

Key terms

Labyrinth — The bony cavity of the inner ear.
Meniere's syndrome — A disease of the inner ear marked by recurrent episodes of vertigo and roaring in the ears lasting several hours. Its cause is unknown.
Otitis media — Inflammation of the middle ear. It can lead to labyrinthitis.
Vertigo — A sensation of dizziness marked by the feeling that one's self or surroundings are spinning or whirling.


inflammation of the labyrinth; called also otitis interna.
acute serous labyrinthitis a type caused by chemical or toxic irritants that invade the labyrinth, usually from the middle ear. Called also sterile or toxic labyrinthitis.
acute suppurative labyrinthitis a type in which pus enters the labyrinth, usually through a fistula after middle ear infection or through temporal bone erosion from meningitis; it results in severe and often permanent vertigo and hearing loss. Called also bacterial or purulent labyrinthitis.
bacterial labyrinthitis acute suppurative labyrinthitis.
circumscribed labyrinthitis acute serous labyrinthitis in a discrete area, due to erosion of the bony wall of a semicircular canal with exposure of the membranous labyrinth; called also perilabyrinthitis.
meningogenic labyrinthitis acute suppurative labyrinthitis that results from invasion of meningitis through an erosion of the temporal bone.
labyrinthitis ossi´ficans abnormal ossification in the labyrinth after a trauma or an infection with inflammation.
purulent labyrinthitis acute suppurative labyrinthitis.
sterile labyrinthitis (toxic labyrinthitis) acute serous labyrinthitis.


Inflammation of the labyrinth (the internal ear), usually accompanied by vertigo and deafness.
Synonym(s): otitis interna


/lab·y·rin·thi·tis/ (lab″ĭ-rin-thi´tis) otitis interna; inflammation of the labyrinth.
acute serous labyrinthitis  a type caused by chemical or toxic irritants that invade the labyrinth, usually from the middle ear.
acute suppurative labyrinthitis  a type in which pus enters the labyrinth, usually either through a fistula after infection of the middle ear or through temporal bone erosion from meningitis.
circumscribed labyrinthitis  perilabyrinthitis; acute serous labyrinthitis in a discrete area, due to erosion of the bony wall of a semicircular canal with exposure of the membranous labyrinth.


Etymology: Gk, labyrinthos, maze, itis
inflammation or dysfunction of the labyrinthine canals of the inner ear, resulting in vertigo, often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, or malaise.


ENT Viral or bacterial infection or other inflammation of the inner ear Etiology Otitis media, URI, allergy, cholesteatoma, ototoxic drugs Clinical Loss of balance, vertigo, temporary hearing loss


Inflammation of the labyrinth (the internal ear), sometimes accompanied by vertigo and deafness.
Synonym(s): otitis interna.


Inflammation, usually as a result of an influenza or mumps virus infection, of the part of the inner ear responsible for balance. Labyrinthitis causes VERTIGO, vomiting and a ringing or hissing in the ears (TINNITUS). Deafness may follow, but the condition usually clears up spontaneously within days or weeks.


inflammation of the labyrinth; otitis interna.
References in periodicals archive ?
Inner ear ischemia can produce enhancement that has a similar appearance to labyrinthitis.
In two patients (8%) the air-bone gap improved to less 20 dB, recurrent conductive hearing loss (due piston slipping) was seen in one patient (4%), and no cases of perilymph fistula, reparative granuloma, labyrinthitis, tinnitus facial palsy and perforation of the tympanic membrane were recorded.
It took guts to pursue his acting dream after contracting an airborne virus which lead to the disorder labyrinthitis.
Opening chapters describing time-tested examination techniques, laboratory tests, and the imaging studies necessary for accurate diagnosis are followed by chapters addressing the various diseases causing vertigo and disequilibrium--Meiniere's disease, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, labyrinthitis, migraine-induced vertibulopathy--each with concise explanations of medical, surgical, and therapeutic treatment options.
A theatre worker said he was suffering from labyrinthitis - a balance disorder which causes dizziness and vomiting.
Balance disorders include benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, which is caused by displacement of small calcium stones in the inner ear; labyrinthitis, a result of infection or inflammation in the inner ear; and Meniere's disease, which is marked by vertigo, intermittent hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing or roaring in the ears), and a feeling of fullness in the ear.
A weakness in the sample selection was that of the 14 elderly participants three had arthritis of the knee and two had labyrinthitis, these factors may influence balance and sway characteristics.
People are generally over a bout of labyrinthitis in a few weeks to a month or so.
This process, referred to as serous labyrinthitis, can result in permanent high-frequency sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) because the basal turn of the cochlea is most affected (Hunter et al.
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He was treated for acute labyrinthitis with intravenous Valium [R] and Compazine [R], and released after an overnight stay.