Inner Ear Infection

Infection of inner ear can trigger extreme agony if it is not detected and treated promptly.

 A Wake up Call

 Last Monday, when I woke up in the morning I felt a bit dizzy, but I just brushed it off as I was already late for work. During the lunch break, I mentioned to my colleagues about how I felt in the morning and there was a moment of silence, before one of them inquired if I deemed it might be the harbinger stroke. “No”, I replied gaily. I have felt this several times before, just the way I wake up sometimes.” Then I simply forgot about it and carried on with the errands of my life.

 A couple of days later when I woke up and proceeded to get up, I could not. This time dizziness slammed me back, and I was crying and gasping with the shock of it. There was not a speck of doubt that there was something serious amiss.  This was a nightmare. In the evening, I made a visit to a doctor’s clinic. The doctor asked some questions, did diagnosis and tests to preclude the likelihood of stroke and he said that I was suffering from an inner ear infection.

Now, you may be wondering – Infection of the Inner Ear??? What is that??

Vestibular Neuritis and Labyrinthitis are ailments resulting from an infection that inflames the nerves connecting the inner ear to the brain or ear’s labyrinth (a set of fluid-filled chambers that regulate balance).This inflammation agitates the transmission of sensory information from the ear to the brain. Difficulties with balance, vision or hearing, dizziness and vertigo may result.

Additionally, infections of the inner ear are typically viral; less commonly the cause is bacterial. Such infections of inner ear are not similar to middle ear infections, which are typically the kind of bacterial infections common in childhood affecting the parts around the eardrum.

  • Vestibular Neuritis (Inflammation of the nerve) It adversely affect the branch associated with balance, resulting in vertigo or dizziness, but no problems in hearing. The medical term neuronitis (meaning damage to the sensory neurons of the vestibular ganglion) is used as well for the condition.
  • Labyrinthitis (inflammation of the labyrinth) This ear disorder happens when an infection adversely affects both branches of the cochlear-vestibulo nerve, resulting in vertigo, dizziness and problems in hearing.

What causes infections of inner ear?

Viral and Bacterial Inner Ear Infections

Infections that cause Labyrinthitis or neuritis are usually viral instead of bacterial. Although the symptoms may be same, however the treatments are extremely different, therefore proper diagnosis by the doctor is important.

Viral

Viral infections of inner ear are more common as compared to bacterial infections, but less is known about them.  Viral ear infection may be the outcome of a systematic viral illness (like measles or mononucleosis – that affects rest of the body) or may be confined to the vestibulo-cochlear nerve or labyrinth.

Viruses that have been associated with inner infections of ear include measles, mumps, hepatitis, Epstein-Barr, influenza, polio and herpes viruses (the ones that cause shingles, cold sores or chicken pox). Other viruses that may cause Labyrinthitis or neuritis are yet unknown due to difficulties in sampling the labyrinth without damaging it.

Bacterial

In serious Labyrinthitis, bacterium that have badly infected the bone surrounding the inner ear or middle ear produce toxins that raid inner ear through the round or oval windows and inflame the vestibular system, cochlea or both. Serous Labyrinthitis is often the result of untreated and chronic middle ear infections and is characterized by mild or subtle symptoms.

Less common is suppurative labyrinthitis, wherein bacteria invade the labyrinth. The infection crops up in the cerebrospinal fluid or middle ear, as a consequence of bacterial meningitis. Bacteria/germs can enter the inner ear via internal auditory canal or cochlear aqueduct or fistula in the horizontal semicircular canal or cochlear aqueduct.

What are the symptoms of infection in the inner ear?

Symptoms of neuritis can be both mild and severe, ranging from slightdizzinessto a fierce spinning sensation called vertigo. They may also include:

  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Severe vertigo
  • Inability to maintain proper balance
  • Impaired concentration
  • Difficulty with vision

Moreover, sometimes the vision can be so stern that they can affect the ability to walk or stand. Viral labyrinthitis may show the same symptoms together with hearing loss and tinnitus.

Onset of symptoms

Acute Phase

Onset of symptoms is very sudden, with severe dizziness popping up abruptly during routine activities. In other instances, the symptoms pop up upon waking up in the morning (just what happed in my case). The sudden onset of symptoms can be extremely frightening.

Chronic Phase

After a period of steady recovery that might last several weeks, some people become totally free of symptoms. Others may have chronic dizziness in case the virus has destroyed the vestibular nerve. People with chronic labyrinthitis or neuritis face difficulty describing their symptoms and become frustrated, as although they may appear healthy, they do not feel well. Without understanding the cause, they may feel that day-to-day activities are fatiguing like being in a crowd, walking in a store, turning their head to talk with another person at the dinner table or using a computer.

Some people may find it really grueling to work because of continuous feeling of haziness or disorientation and intricacy with thinking and concentration.

How is inner ear infection diagnosed?

A clear description of the nature of dizziness is a vital diagnostic clue for the physician. Vertigo involves a spinning sensation and usually points to a problem in the vestibular system of the ear. The problem may develop in the inner ear, in the nerve connecting inner ear to the brain or in the brain itself.

On the contrary, other types of dizziness such as feeling lightheaded or faint point to ailments elsewhere in the body and aid to rule out a diagnosis of disease in the inner ear.

Furthermore, the doctor also inquires about the onset of vertigo, any other symptoms and recent illnesses. A thorough physical examination, including ears in performed. In some instances, blood tests or other tests may be recommended. Dizziness can be caused by myriad problems spanning from neurologic, psychiatric and heart diseases and brain tumors, many of which must be ruled out.

What all can I do myself?

Since even minor head movement can worsen the vertigo, stay in bed, take rest and remain as quiet as possible. Additionally, dim lights may help ease queasiness.

When should I consult physician?

Any unexplained dizziness must prompt a call to doctor. People suffering from labyrinthitis are not required to be urged to see a doctor, as the vertigo of infection of inner ear is so debilitating and marked that it automatically makes people seek medical help immediately.

What treatments are provided by the doctor?

Initially, the doctor will prescribe an anti-nausea and tranquilizer. Such symptomatic treatment is mostly that is necessary for a viral inner-ear infection. In case, the bacterial infection is suspected, antibiotics will be prescribed. In case, the infection is severe (if meningitis occurs), hospitalization for intravenous antibiotic therapy may be mandatory. Additionally, severe cases may warrant surgery –particularly a labyrintliectomy, an operation to drain the inner ear.

What is the course of infection of inner ear?

The duration of inner ear disorder depends essentially on the cause of inflammation. Viral labyrinthitis generally does not have any long-term serious consequences, though it is temporarily debilitating. The infection is likely self-limiting and disappears within 1-3 weeks.

Serious inner-ear disorders caused by bacteria are usually referred to as suppurative or purulent labyrinthitis. In bacterial labyrinthitis, complete hearing loss happens in the affected ear. When the inflammation is secondary to chronic otitis media – facial paralysis may happen.

Moreover, there is a threat that purulent labyrinthitis may lead to meningitis, because the bacteria get access to the central nervous system or brain via the cochlea in the ear.

Is inner ear disorder dangerous?

No! Untreated bacterial labyrinthitis, however, can lead to grave problems, including meningitis.

What measures can I take to avoid inner-ear infection?

  • Importantly, seek immediate treatment for any sort of middle-ear infection
  • During respiratory infections or cold, avert forceful nose-blowings it can push infectious materials into structures of inner and middle ear.

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