Children's Hospital Colorado
Ear, Nose and Throat

Labyrinthitis and Vestibular Neuritis

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What are labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis?

Labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis are two conditions of the inner ear and 8th cranial nerve that can lead to balance and hearing problems. Vestibular neuritis affects the vestibular portion of the inner ear/nerve, while labyrinthitis affects the entire inner ear/nerve, including both the balance and hearing organs.

Labyrinthitis causes hearing loss and dizziness while vestibular neuritis only causes dizziness or vertigo. Vestibular neuritis is also sometimes referred to as vestibular neuronitis.

What causes labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis?

Both conditions are caused by inflammation resulting from inner ear infections. These infections are usually viral but may be caused by bacteria. The conditions can affect both ears, but more commonly occur in only one.

Some common viral illnesses that can lead to labyrinthitis or neuritis include:

Bacterial inner ear infections occur less often than viral infections and are more common in young children. Young children are more susceptible to chronic middle ear infections caused by a buildup of bacteria behind the eardrum. If these infections are not treated, the bacteria can enter the surrounding bone or inner ear labyrinth, leading to an inner ear infection. Bacteria can also enter the inner ear as a result of bacterial meningitis.

Who gets labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis?

People with a history of viral illnesses are more susceptible to recurring viral infections, as the virus can lie dormant in the nerves and flare up later. These people may also have recurring labyrinthitis or neuritis for the same reason.

While rare, bacterial labyrinthitis or neuritis tends to occur more frequently in young children with recurring middle ear infections, especially if these infections have not been properly treated.

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