What Causes Infections in the Inner Ear?

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  • Written By: L. Whitaker
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 04 December 2018
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Infections in the inner ear can be caused by a variety of triggers, such as preexisting infections in other parts of the ear or body, allergies, or injury to the head. Inner ear infections are also known as labyrinthitis, which is the swelling and irritation of certain parts of the inner ear. Someone afflicted with this condition often experiences vertigo, hearing loss, and other serious symptoms with sudden onset.

Frequently, infections in the inner ear occur due to the spread of a primary infection. Middle ear infection, also called otitis media, can spread to the inner ear area if not treated right away. Experts recommend that respiratory infections or middle ear infections be treated quickly to avoid the development of secondary infections in the inner ear.

Sometimes labyrinthitis begins with a viral infection. In these cases, there is sudden onset of acute symptoms such as severe vertigo, which can leave the individual confined to bed for several days or weeks until symptoms recede. This kind of infection can sometimes result in mild to moderate hearing loss that might be permanent. Bacterial labyrinthitis can develop as a secondary symptom of meningitis.


Vertigo is the most frequent symptom of inner ear infections. In contrast with simple dizziness, vertigo is the sensation that one's surroundings are spinning or swirling. Severe vertigo can cause nausea and might make it difficult to stand or walk. In addition to inner ear diseases, some causes of vertigo include migraine headaches, head injury, and some types of tumors.

These types of ear infections also cause other symptoms, such as loss of hearing in one or both ears, dizziness, ringing in the ears, or disturbed sense of balance. Complications could include possible permanent hearing loss as well as the risk of injury during an attack of vertigo. Treatment for labyrinthitis and other ear infections might include antibiotics, depending on which condition is determined to be the cause of symptoms in a particular individual. Other treatment focuses on reducing symptoms through medications such as steroids, antihistamines, or anti-nausea medicines.

Some individuals might be at increased risk of developing labyrinthitis. People who drink heavily, smoke, use aspirin frequently, or have a history of serious allergies could develop ear infections with serious symptoms more easily than the general public. Doctors recommend that individuals at high risk should have their physicians evaluate any respiratory or ear-related illness immediately to avoid developing secondary infections.



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