The ears are one of the most important organs in the human body. They are responsible for hearing and balance as well as to transmit and transduce sound to the brain through the other parts of the ear which include the outer, middle and inner ear.

Unfortunately, like every other organ in the body, the ear is also prone to infections, particularly the inner section. These infections can be caused either by a virus or bacteria which has previously affected another part of your body. When the infection reaches the inner ear, it can have a severe effect on your senses of balance and hearing.

Besides this, you may be experiencing other symptoms which can have a significant impact on your ability to perform your day-to-day activities.

To find out more, read below and learn about the different types, symptoms and treatment options available for inner ear infections.

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Types of inner ear infections

In general, there are two main types of inner ear infections and these are labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis.

For example, labyrinthitis is usually a viral infection of the labyrinth, which is a maze of fluid-filled channels in the inner ear section. The infection causes inflammation in the inner ear, disrupting the transmission of sensory information from the inner ear to the brain and affecting your balance and movement.

Vestibular neuritis is an inner ear infection of the vestibular nerve which often comes before or alongside a viral infection. The infection causes this nerve to be inflamed, also affecting your balance.

Symptoms of inner ear infections

As there are two types of inner ear infections, the symptoms for both types are a bit different. The main difference between them is that labyrinthitis often results in hearing loss, which isn’t the case with vestibular neuritis.

Common symptoms of labyrinthitis include vertigo, nausea, vomiting, tinnitus and hearing impairment. These symptoms may last for a few days and be quite severe, but they often disappear on their own after a couple of weeks.

As for vestibular neuritis, the symptoms are pretty much the same. They develop within hours of infection and also last for several days. They often disappear with no intervention necessary.

Diagnosis of inner ear infections

In addition to looking inside the ear with an otoscope, another way to diagnose an inner ear infection is by undergoing a balance examination. Depending on your symptoms and condition, your doctor may even recommend doing a neurological assessment.

Also, since both types of inner ear infections share similar symptoms with many other health conditions, your doctor may carry out additional tests to rule out these conditions, which include:

The tests you may be asked to do are hearing tests, blood tests, a CT scan and an MRI scan.

Risk factors and complications

Although anyone can develop an inner ear infection, some people are more prone to it because of several factors. These include:

  • An upper respiratory infection caused by the common cold or flu
  • A middle ear infection
  • Contracting meningitis
  • A head injury
  • Respiratory diseases such as bronchitis
  • Viral infections
  • An autoimmune condition

As far as complications are concerned, the risk of permanent inner-ear damage is relatively low. However, there may be some damage to other parts of the inner ear which can lead to hearing loss or balance problems.

BPPV is another possible complication of an inner ear infection.

Treatment of inner ear infections

Usually, for both types of inner ear infections, your doctor may prescribe you some antiviral medications or antibiotics to treat the virus or bacteria that have caused the infection. However, in most cases, these medications will treat the symptoms of the inner ear infection, rather than the infection itself.

In addition to medications, you may also try out some home remedies to help ease the symptoms. Some of the most effective ones include ginger, peppermint, cinnamon and electrolyte replacement sports drinks to treat nausea and vertigo. 

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Final thoughts

Infections can occur in every part of the ear, including the inner ear section. These infections can be caused either by a virus or bacteria, inflaming the labyrinth or vestibular nerve in the ear.

For more information about the two types of inner ear infections, refer to our post and learn everything you need to know about them, including common symptoms, diagnosis and available treatment options.