What is an inner ear infection?
An inner ear infection can cause vertigo for a few hours, days, or weeks. You may be able to regain your balance within a few weeks of healing. In most cases, vertigo due to an inner ear infection can clear by itself.
The ear can be categorized into three distinct parts, the outer, middle, and inner ear. All parts of your ear play a significant role in your well-being.
Your inner ear plays the role of body balance. If it is infected with a viral or bacterial infection, that infection can lead to complications such as vestibular neuritis or labyrinthitis. These conditions can inflame your vestibular nerve, the nerve that sends balance and head position information from the inner ear to the brain.
Bacterial infections of the inner ear are mostly transmitted from the middle ear to the inner ear. Viral infections such as measles or mononucleosis are also likely to cause inner ear infections.
What is vertigo?
Vertigo is a feeling of dizziness or the sensation that the room around you is spinning. When you move your head in a certain position during a vertigo attack, you may feel lightheaded and off-balance. It is a common condition in adults. Vertigo affects nearly 40% of adults in the United States at some point in their lives.
The inner ear is important because it allows you to control your balance, body posture, and spatial orientation. It has a network of fluid-filled canals. This fluid in the canals communicates to your brain how far, how fast, and in which direction your head is moving.
Main symptoms of vertigo
Vertigo is a symptom rather than a disease. A vertigo attack can be mild or severe. You may not notice mild vertigo. However, in severe cases, the symptoms may last for several days and cause difficulty in doing normal tasks.
The most common symptoms of vertigo include:
- Loss of balance
- Feeling sick
- Feeling nauseated
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Abnormal eye movements (nystagmus)
Main causes of vertigo
Sometimes it’s difficult to pinpoint the source of your dizziness. Vertigo may be the result of neurological disorders such as brain tumors or multiple sclerosis. Vertigo can also be caused by non-neurological conditions such as low blood pressure, low blood sugar, hyperventilation, some heart problems (like cardiac arrhythmias), and anxiety disorders.
Other common causes of vertigo include:
- Meniere's disease. This infection is a rare inner ear condition, which sometimes involves ringing in the ear (tinnitus) or loss of hearing. It can also cause severe vertigo symptoms resulting in sudden slips or falls. It is common among adults aged 20 to 60. Although Meniere‘s disease is treatable, its exact cause is unknown.
- Viral labyrinthitis. An inner ear infection caused by a cold or flu virus.
- Vestibular neuronitis. Among the common causes of vertigo, vestibular neuronitis is caused by an inflammation of the vestibular nerve.
- Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV). Specific head movements cause vertigo. This condition has no obvious cause and is common among adults between 50 to 70 years.
- Central vertigo. Migraines or brain tumors might cause problems in your cerebellum (located at the bottom of the brain) or on your brain stem (part of the brain connected to the spinal cord).
How to diagnose vertigo
In most cases, your doctor will diagnose vertigo by doing physical examinations like checking your throat, eye, head, nose, ear, and blood pressure.
Your doctor may also do tests like:
- The Romberg test, used to measure balance.
- HINTS (head-impulse, nystagmus, test of skew). This test helps to check your coordination.
- Dix-Hallpike maneuver, which detects abnormal eye movements.
- Caloric stimulation. A test of your eye movement.
- Imaging tests, such as CT (computed tomography) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).
Treatment of vertigo
As mentioned earlier, vertigo due to ear infections will mostly heal by itself. However, treatment may involve managing the infection that caused vertigo in the first place. Your doctor may recommend some antibiotic medications to treat the bacterial infection. They may also prescribe some antihistamine medications like cinnarizine, cyclizine, or promethazine to help deal with nausea, vomiting, and vertigo symptoms.
If you have symptoms like nausea and vomiting, your doctor may also recommend antiemetics like prochlorperazine that help with these problems. Make sure you are taking enough fluids especially if you’re vomiting.
Treatment of vertigo may also involve some physical therapy exercises like the Brandt-Daroff exercises and vestibular rehabilitation training (VRT) to help with balance and dizziness problems. Vestibular rehabilitation training helps you retrain your brain to adapt to abnormal messages from your inner ears while Brandt-Daroff exercises are useful in cases where you may have neck and back problems.
Tips to help you deal with vertigo
To ease symptoms of vertigo, consider the following tips:
- Avoid driving if you suspect you might have a vertigo episode
- Find ways to stay relaxed since anxiety may worsen your vertigo symptoms
- Make slow and careful head movements when executing your regular activities
- Sit down immediately if you start feeling dizzy
- Switch on your lights when you wake up at night
- Consider using a walking stick to avoid falling
- Lie still in a quiet dark room to manage symptoms like the spinning feeling
- Consider using two or more pillows to slightly elevate your head while sleeping
- Take your time when getting out of bed and sit on the edge of the bed for some time before you stand up
- Avoid activities that will make you stretch your neck or look upwards, like reaching for high things or painting
- When picking things try to squat instead of bending
- Avoid drinking alcohol, caffeine, and smoking
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Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
American Academy of Family Physicians: "Dizziness: Approach to Evaluation and Management."
BetterHealth: "Dizziness and vertigo."
The Johns Hopkins University: "Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)."
NHS inform: "Vertigo."
NHS: "Labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis," "Vertigo."
The Regents of The University of California: "Vertigo."
Vestibular Disorders Association: "LABYRINTHITIS AND VESTIBULAR NEURITIS."
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