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How Do Doctors Treat Damage of the Vestibular Nerve?

By A.M. Boyle
Updated May 17, 2024
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The vestibular nerve carries signals from the inner ear to the brain's stem regarding head movement and balance. Damage to that nerve can cause dizziness, vertigo, and nausea. Generally, doctors treat the condition symptomatically, but other options might be available, depending upon the cause. If the damage is being caused by a tumor or infection, the underlying condition will be treated accordingly. In extreme cases, certain surgical options are available.

When damage to the vestibular nerve occurs, information sent to the brain through that nerve is not correctly processed. This can cause a person to experience periodic bouts of dizziness, vertigo, and nausea. Primarily, doctors look to alleviate the symptoms, which can be quite stressful to an individual. Normally, some type of motion sickness medication, such as merclizine, lorazepam, or diazepam, is prescribed to suppress the dizziness. Once the dizziness and vertigo ease, the nausea usually subsides, but sometimes, it is necessary to prescribe an anti-emetic medication to reduce nausea and vomiting.

An acoustic neuroma is a tumor that occurs in the inner ear. Depending upon the exact location of the tumor, it might impinge on the vestibular nerve, causing the symptoms associated with nerve damage. In this instance, the condition can often be relieved by removing the neuroma. This is a surgical procedure that carries its own set of risks, but once the pressure from the neuroma is relieved, the symptoms are usually alleviated. In some cases, though, the damage caused by the tumor might cause the symptoms to persist even after surgery.

Sometimes, the vestibular nerve can become infected and inflamed, in which case a person might experience the same symptoms as if the nerve were damaged. The herpes virus is usually the type of virus that infects the vestibular nerve. Most often, doctors will prescribe a medication called acyclovir along with a course of steroids to clear up the infection. Once the infection is treated, it can take three weeks or longer for the symptoms to subside. If the infection is allowed to continue untreated, a person runs the risk of suffering permanent damage to the vestibular nerve.

In extreme cases, when the nerve damages causes symptoms that significantly impair a person’s ability to function, surgery may be recommended. The surgery, called a vestibular nerve section, involves the cutting of the nerve so that transmission of misinformation can no longer occur. There are risks associated with this procedure, and it is usually considered only as a last resort.

Another procedure, known as transtympanic gentamicin (TTG), involves the injection of a certain solution into the ear through the eardrum. The solution, called gentamicin, intentionally damages the inner ear so that misinformation is no longer processed and sent to the brain. As a result, the symptoms of vertigo and dizziness usually subside. Again, because the procedure carries certain risks, it is usually considered only as a last resort.

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