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What is an Inner Ear Infection?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 17, 2024
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Also known as labyrinthitis, an inner ear infection is a condition in which the sufferer experiences difficulties with maintaining proper balance. It is one of the several forms of otitis and is sometimes called otitis interna, indicating that the condition has to do with an infection or inflammation of the inner ear. Along with balance problems, this type of infection may be accompanied by some degree of hearing loss and possibly ringing in the ears.

There are several factors that can cause an infection of the inner ear. The most common has to do with the contraction of a virus, although the disorder can also be caused by a bacterial infection. While the natural defenses of the body can often overcome the ear problem in time, treatment by a medical professional will usually speed recovery and minimize the chances of long term damage.

Along with bacterial infections or viruses, allergies may also trigger inflammation in the inner ear. Pet dander, food allergies, and even an allergic reaction to prescription medication may set the stage for the infection. Treating the allergy with diet and medication can often help to ease the ear pain and other issues that are part of this condition and expedite the healing process.

An inner ear infection can also develop from other ear infections, such as swimmer’s ear. While this condition is normally confined to the outer ear and the ear canal, constant probing in the ear can force bacteria and other matter into the middle ear, behind the eardrum, and into the inner ear. When this happens, the inflammation builds up and can create a strong sense of congestion that is much more pronounced than outer or middle ear problems. At this juncture, antibiotics are the most likely way to calm the inflammation and allow healing to take place.

Stress has the ability to negatively affect many functions in the body. Prolonged and severe stress can also lead to the development of anxiety and ultimately an inner ear infection. An anxiety disorder that includes the development of labyrinthitis will usually include periods of sudden dizziness and disorientation that quickly move on to triggering a full blown panic attack. Medical professionals routinely consider the possibility of an infection when patients begin to manifest disorders of this type, and they often look for other physical imbalances that can result from stress and anxiety.

The exact form of treatment for an inner ear infection will depend on the origin of the infection itself and the various symptoms and side effects that appear. In some cases, dietary changes are implemented, or medications are changed as a means of easing the constant earache. If anxiety and panic are a cause, using some type of anti-anxiety medication to ease the symptoms may also help expedite the healing process.

While it is possible for the body to eventually overcome an infection in the inner ear, damage can be done that allows various symptoms to linger for weeks or even years. Seeking medical treatment will not only shorten the duration of the actual infection, but also lessen the possibility of living with ringing ears or other ear problems for an extended period of time.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including WiseGeek, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By ZipLine — On Nov 03, 2012

@feruze-- Oh yea, dogs can get inner ear infections and it's actually quite dangerous for them. If it doesn't get treated it can cause nerve damage in their face.

My brother's dog got treated for an inner ear infection last year. Thankfully, his wasn't that bad, he had been drooling and sleeping a lot and he had to get a couple of injections at the vet.

By bear78 — On Nov 03, 2012

I've heard about inner ear infection in people, but can dogs get it too?

By fBoyle — On Nov 02, 2012

I hate inner ear infections, they are horrible!

Whenever I get a major cold, especially with an upper-respiratory infection, I also get an inner ear infection. The mouth, nose and ears are connected, so once an infection gets into one, it doesn't take it long to get to my ears.

I know when I have an inner ear infection when there is a constant dull ache in my ears, my hearing changes and I feel like there is pressure building up in my ears. The only inner ear infection treatment that works for me is a course of antibiotics.

By Oceana — On Aug 24, 2012

@blackDagger – I think the best way to prevent inner ear infections is to seek treatment when they are still just middle ear infections. As soon as you notice pressure, pain, or extreme itching in your ear canal, you should see a doctor.

Once it gets to the inner ear, you will get dizzy, and it may take longer to recover once you start taking medication for it. I like to get relief as soon as I start having issues with my ears, because generally, it only gets worse.

By healthy4life — On Aug 23, 2012

Inner ear infection symptoms can be more severe in young children than in adults. My niece got an infection when she was just two years old, and she ran a high fever with it.

She kept pulling at her ear, and she became extremely irritable. My sister noticed that she looked flushed, and when she put her hand to her forehead, she was shocked at how hot she felt.

Then, she noticed pus draining out of her daughter's ear. She took her to the doctor right away.

By cloudel — On Aug 23, 2012

Sometimes, inner ear infection treatment coincides with the treatment for the condition causing the ear issue. I tend to get ear infections when I have sinus infections, and the antibiotic pills that I take clear up both.

I deal with allergies all the time. I take antihistamines, but during pollen season, my allergies are just too strong to be controlled.

When my nose becomes congested with dried mucus, my ears are also affected. When I blow my nose, I can feel pain shooting through my ears, and I often get dizzy upon standing.

By seag47 — On Aug 22, 2012

My husband started having symptoms of an inner ear infection after swimming in the pool. He had been floating on his back a lot, and this meant that water was pouring into his ears.

He used ear drops to dry out the water, but this didn't work. His ears were stopped up for days, and he had trouble hearing out of one ear.

After a couple of weeks, his ear canal started to swell. I could actually see that the hole was closing. He said that the pain was becoming unbearable, so he went to the doctor.

She gave him some antibiotic ear drops that worked wonders. She also gave him something for the pain in the meantime.

By mabeT — On May 13, 2011

I know most of the time when people think of inner ear infections they think of kids. However, I constantly get ear infections and I have no idea what to do about it.

Am I too old to get tubes in my ears? I’m 50 years old.

Also, is there other alternative treatments to be looked into that are both safe and effective.

Having ear pain, and losing your balance all of the time is for the birds. What should a person do when they are dealing with inner ear infections in adults.

By blackDagger — On May 11, 2011

An inner ear infection can be quite painful, and difficult to get rid of. Actually, all of the inner ear infection symptoms I've ever had are really uncomfortable.

I’m wondering, though, if there are any ways to prevent them?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
Learn more
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