An inner ear infection can be one of the most painful sinus drainage-related problems. Part of the inner ear is made up of an extensive series of small passages called the vestibular system. This system is responsible for helping you balance when walking or moving. The labyrinths of the inner ear can become inflamed due to infection or other causes. This condition is formally known as labyrinthitis.
Causes of an Inner Ear Infection or Labyrinthitis
Like sinusitis, labyrinthitis can arise from many of different causes:
- Viruses – As with sinusitis, viruses are the most common cause of inner ear infections. Sometimes an inner ear infection begins in the ear, but viruses from a case untreated sinusitis can spread to the ear and cause this condition as well.
- Bacterial Infections – Though less frequent, bacteria is also a common cause of inner ear infections.
- Ear Injuries – Patients who experience injuries to the ear, like extremely concussive noises, may get labyrinthitis.
- Allergic Reaction – Allergic reactions to certain medications may cause inflammation in the inner ear and lead to labyrinthitis.
- High Stress – In some cases, patients with high levels of stress experience labyrinthitis.
Symptoms of an Inner Ear Infection or Labyrinthitis
There are several key symptoms of an inner ear infection:
- Vertigo – Vertigo, or a feeling of dizziness when you’re not actually moving enough to be dizzy, is the most prominent symptom of an inner ear infection. Inflammation of the inner ear interferes with the body’s ability to properly sense motion.
- Imbalance – Because the inner ear is responsible for regulating balance, another primary symptom of an inner ear infection is imbalance.
- Temporary Hearing Loss – Labyrinthitis is often accompanied by temporary hearing loss.
- Tinnitus – Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is a frequent symptom of labyrinthitis.
- Headaches and Ear Pain – Headaches and ear pain are also common with inner ear inflammation.
Recovery from an Inner Ear Infection
Recovery from an inner ear infection can be a fairly quick process. Patients suffering from acute inner ear injuries typically take between one to six weeks to recover. However, in patients who suffer permanent damage to the inner ear, symptoms may last for months or even years.
Labyrinthitis often occurs in two stages:
- Acute Labyrinthitis – In the acute stage, symptoms occur very suddenly. Intense dizziness and vertigo occur when waking up or during routine activities. The rapid onset of these symptoms is often very upsetting; most patients seek medical care immediately.
- Chronic Labyrinthitis – Once a patient begins recovery, she may experience symptoms on a longer-term basis. Dizziness and fatigue are the most common chronic symptoms, and they may occur for weeks or even months.
Treatment depends on the stage the patient is currently in. During the acute stage, doctors typically prescribe medications to minimize vertigo and nausea. Antibiotics or antiviral drugs are typical as well in cases where the doctor suspects bacterials or viral infection as the cause. In most cases inner ear infections do not cause permanent damage when treated early.
In patients who experience chronic symptoms, doctors often conduct extensive testing to discover the exact cause of the condition. Treatment options vary, depending on the precise issue, but physical therapy is one of the most common options.