What is vestibular neuritis?
Vestibular neuritis happens when the vestibular nerve in your inner ear becomes swollen. This nerve carries balance signals from the inner ear to the brain. When the nerve is inflamed, it can make you feel that the room is spinning or that you have lost your balance. This is called vertigo.
Vestibular neuritis usually happens in only one ear.
What causes vestibular neuritis?
Vestibular neuritis often happens after a viral infection, such as a cold or the flu. So experts believe it may be caused by a virus. But more than half of the people who get vestibular neuritis do not remember having any cold or flu symptoms before they started to feel dizzy.
The infection inflames the nerve. This causes the nerve to send incorrect signals to the brain that the body is moving. But your other senses (such as vision) do not detect the same movement. The confusion in signals can make you feel that the room is spinning or that you have lost your balance (vertigo).
What are the symptoms?
The main symptom is vertigo, which appears suddenly. It often occurs with nausea and vomiting. The vertigo usually lasts for several days or weeks. In rare cases it can take months to go away entirely.
Vestibular neuritis may affect your hearing.
How is vestibular neuritis diagnosed?
A doctor can usually diagnose this problem based on your symptoms of sudden vertigo, nausea, and vomiting with no hearing loss.
If the cause of your symptoms is not clear, your doctor may test your eye movements and hearing. Or he or she may order an MRI scan of your head.
How is it treated?
The good news is that this problem usually goes away on its own. Until the sense of motion goes away, there are things you can do to feel better.
Many people find that it helps to stay in bed for the first 2 or 3 days and keep still. Your doctor also may suggest balance exercises to help control your symptoms.
Sometimes you can control severe symptoms with medicines, such as antihistamines (for example, Benadryl). If you see a doctor early enough, you may be able to take corticosteroids, such as methylprednisolone. These also have been shown to help.1
Antibiotics do not work on conditions that are caused by a virus. Because doctors suspect that vestibular neuritis is caused by a virus, they don't use antibiotics to treat it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Learning about vestibular neuritis:
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|Vertigo: Balance exercises|
- Begins suddenly, usually with no warning.
- Is severe enough that it often causes nausea and sometimes vomiting.
- Is severe for 1 to 2 days.
- Gradually gets better over a span of a few days to weeks.
After the first symptoms of vertigo go away, there may be a period lasting a month or more when any sudden head movement can trigger dizziness and loss of balance.
Vestibular neuritis may cause hearing loss. It is similar to a condition called labyrinthitis, which often—but not always—causes temporary or permanent hearing loss or a ringing sound in the ears (tinnitus). The difference between vestibular neuritis and labyrinthitis is where the inflammation occurs. Vestibular neuritis affects the vestibular nerve. Labyrinthitis affects the inner ear canal. For more information, see the topic Labyrinthitis.
Exams and Tests
It is common for people to use the terms vertigo, dizziness, and lightheadedness to mean the same thing. But they are not the same. And it is important to be able to tell the doctor which one you are experiencing.
Your doctor will ask questions about your medical history and perform a physical exam to learn the cause of vertigo. The physical exam usually includes the Dix-Hallpike test. This test will help your doctor find out whether your vertigo is triggered by certain head movements.
Additional tests may be done if the cause of vertigo is not clear. These tests may include:
- Electronystagmography, which involves attaching wires (electrodes) to the face to detect involuntary eye movements that occur when a person has vertigo.
- Imaging tests, such as an MRI.
- Hearing tests such as pure tone audiometry or auditory brain stem response testing.
Vestibular neuritis usually gets better on its own in days or weeks. The goal of treatment is to keep you comfortable until the symptoms pass.
Drugs that may be used to control symptoms of vertigo include:
- Antihistamines (such as Dramamine, Antivert, or Benadryl).
- Scopolamine (such as Transderm-Scop).
- Sedatives (such as Valium or Klonopin).
These drugs should only be taken for 1 to 2 weeks to control severe symptoms of vertigo. They usually do not stop vertigo completely. But they may help reduce nausea and vomiting. If the vertigo is severe, antiemetic drugs may be used to control nausea and vomiting.
In the first 2 to 3 days
If your vertigo lasts longer
If the vertigo symptoms last more than a few days, you may want to try the Brandt-Daroff exercise for vertigo. For this exercise, you move your head and body slowly from side to side. Activity may help the brain ignore false signals of motion more quickly. It is especially important to move your head as you normally would and to avoid holding it completely still, so that your body can adjust. Bed rest may help prevent attacks of vertigo, but it usually increases the time it takes for the body to adjust.
There are also balance exercises you can do at home to help control your vertigo. For more information, see:
Other Places To Get Help
|American Hearing Research Foundation|
|8 South Michigan Avenue|
|Chicago, IL 60603-4539|
The American Hearing Research Foundation helps pay for research into hearing and balance disorders and also helps to educate the public about these disorders. On their Web site you can find general information on many common ear disorders, including descriptions, causes, diagnoses, and treatments. References are also included as a source for further information. The American Hearing Research Foundation also publishes a newsletter, available by subscription, as well as a number of pamphlets on a variety of topics.
|Vestibular Disorders Association (VEDA)|
|P.O. Box 13305|
|Portland, OR 97213-0305|
This organization provides information and support for people with dizziness, balance disorders, and related hearing problems. A quarterly newsletter, fact sheets, booklets, videotapes, a list of other members in your area, and information about centers and doctors specializing in balance disorders are all available to members.
- Strupp M, et al. (2004). Methylprednisolone, valacyclovir, or the combination for vestibular neuritis. New England Journal of Medicine, 351(4): 354–361.
Other Works Consulted
- Baloh RW (2003). Vestibular neuritis. New England Journal of Medicine, 348(11): 1027–1032.
- Friedland DR, Minor LB (2009). Vestibular neuritis section of Menière disease, vestibular neuritis, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, superior semicircular canal dehiscence, and vestibular migraine. In JB Snow Jr, PA Wackym, eds., Ballenger's Otorhinolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery, 17th ed., pp. 317–318. Hamilton, ON: BC Decker.
- Solomon D, Frohman EM (2005). The dizzy patient. In DC Dale, DD Federman, eds., ACP Medicine, section 11, chap. 1. New York: WebMD.
|Editor||Kathleen M. Ariss, MS|
|Associate Editor||Pat Truman, MATC|
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Colin Chalk, MD, CM, FRCPC - Neurology|
|Last Updated||August 18, 2009|
Last Updated: August 18, 2009