How Do You Know If You Have Vertigo or Ear Infection?

Medically Reviewed on 5/3/2022

What is an inner ear infection?

The sensation that the world around you is spinning is called vertigo while infection of the inner ear may cause labyrinthitis. The type of vertigo that is associated with an inner ear infection is called peripheral vertigo.
The sensation that the world around you is spinning is called vertigo while infection of the inner ear may cause labyrinthitis. The type of vertigo that is associated with an inner ear infection is called peripheral vertigo.

The sensation that the world around you is spinning is called vertigo. Vertigo alone is not a disease, but it can be a symptom of something else going on in your inner ear. 

Because both vertigo and inner ear infections affect the inner ear, you may be wondering, "can an inner ear infection cause vertigo?" If so, read on to find out.

The inner ear has fluid-filled tubes and sacs that are together called the labyrinth. Sound is processed in this area of your ear as well as information about spatial changes and the motion of your body and surroundings. When the information from your inner ear is sent to the brain, it helps you find your balance.

When any part of the inner ear becomes infected, it can be irritating and lead to inner ear inflammation. The labyrinth and inner ear system may not work properly in this case, and you might lose some of your hearing. Because the labyrinth is often the part infected and inflamed during an inner ear infection, these infections are sometimes referred to as labyrinthitis

During labyrinthitis, the vestibulocochlear nerve, also known as the eighth cranial nerve, can also get inflamed. Inflammation in your inner ear can cause hearing loss and make you feel like you're spinning. When people have this kind of inflammation, the symptoms usually go away on their own over time. 

What are the symptoms of an inner ear infection?

There are several symptoms of labyrinthitis. They include:

  • The feeling of being ill
  • Hearing loss
  • Ringing in your ears
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Feeling off-balance and being unable to stand or walk straight

These symptoms can begin all of a sudden. They may also start in the morning and get progressively worse throughout the day. The symptoms usually go away in a few days. Your balance might take a few weeks or longer to come back.

What is vertigo?

Vertigo is a symptom of something else happening in your ears — not a condition in itself. It's the physical sensation that everything around you is spinning. It can make you feel like you're wobbling only slightly, or it can get so uncomfortable that you're unable to keep your balance and complete everyday tasks.

A vertigo attack can last just a few seconds, or it can last for a longer period. It can develop suddenly or creep up on you over time. If your vertigo is severe, it can last for several days and make day-to-day tasks challenging.

What are the symptoms of vertigo?

Both vertigo and dizziness are balance problems, and they're sometimes referred to interchangeably. But dizziness is more of a feeling of being off-balance, whereas vertigo gives you the sensation that either you're spinning or everything around you is spinning. Because vertigo is just a symptom itself, you may get it with some other related symptoms, such as:

Can an inner ear infection cause vertigo?

When your inner ear gets infected, it causes the message relay system between your ear and your brain to stop working properly. And when the brain can't properly match information from the normal nerves in your ear to the information from the infected one, you can get vertigo. 

There are two different types of vertigo:

  • Peripheral vertigo. This is the type of vertigo associated with inner ear infections.
  • Central vertigo. This type is due to a brain problem of some sort. This can include a tumor, infection, stroke, or traumatic brain injury.

Some inner ear infections cause dizziness, but they can cause vertigo too.

Can anything else cause vertigo?

Several other conditions can cause a vertigo attack. These include:

What causes inner ear infections?

The following viruses have been known to cause inner ear infections:

Although it's more common in children, bacteria can also infect the ear. Such bacterial infections usually start in the middle ear and spread to the inner ear. Middle ear infections that last for a long time can cause other illnesses.  Sometimes — in rare cases — they can lead to bacterial meningitis.


Ear infection or acute otitis media is an infection of the middle ear. See Answer

How is an inner ear infection treated?

As with any illness, your treatment will depend on your health, age, and symptoms. The severity of the infection will also play a role. Clinical treatment of labyrinthitis can include:

  • Antiviral medications
  • Corticosteroids to reduce inflammation
  • Antibiotics for bacterial infections
  • Medicines that relieve nausea and dizziness

If your symptoms are gone in a few weeks, your treatment should be finished. If the symptoms don't go away, your doctor may suggest vestibular rehabilitation exercises. These exercises are a type of physical therapy that may help your brain respond to the imbalance caused by the infection.

How is vertigo treated?

Sometimes vertigo gets better on its own without treatment. Some people, though, have many episodes over months or years. This can be caused by underlying issues like Ménière's disease.

Some types of vertigo have specific treatments, like simple head movement exercises. Some medicines like antihistamines can help when you start to get repeated episodes of vertigo. Vestibular rehabilitation training may also be recommended for vertigo because it can help with dizziness and balance issues.

Are there any home remedies that help with vertigo?

Research has not found any alternative therapies that are sure to get rid of vertigo. But some people do take herbal supplements to help with the spinning. You should always consult with your doctor before beginning any alternative therapy. Some popular natural vertigo remedies include:

Are there possible complications from inner ear infections?

Labyrinthitis doesn't usually cause long-term problems. In rare instances, it can cause permanent damage to the eighth cranial nerve. This leads to balance problems and possible total hearing loss. 

It's important to see your doctor if you think you have an inner ear infection. They can help monitor your condition and make sure you receive the appropriate treatment.

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Medically Reviewed on 5/3/2022

Cedars Sinai: "Labyrinthitis."

Cleveland Clinic: "Vertigo."

National Health Service Scotland: "Vertigo."

Nation Health Service UK: "Labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis."