What causes labyrinthitis?
The exact cause of labyrinthitis is not yet known. As stated, it normally appears after a viral infection or, in rare cases, a bacterial infection. The typical trigger for viral labyrinthitis is seen to be a cold or flu – upper respiratory tract infections.
The vestibular nerve is first inflamed, resulting in incorrect signals being sent to the brain, telling the brain that your body is moving, when in actual fact it is not. Your vision, however, does not detect the same message as it sees that you are still, this makes you feel like the floor is moving, or the walls are spinning and you are losing your sense of balance. This is vertigo.
Labyrinthitis is known to affect you at any age. There are a number of factors known to cause the condition.
These are briefly listed as follows:
- Respiratory infection such as the cold or flu
- Inner ear viral infections
- Herpes viruses
- Stomach viruses
- Excessive alcohol intake
- Head injury
- Severe stress
The following explains how infections of the middle ear resulting in the inflammation of the vestibular nerve occur in detail:
When you have an ear infection, it is caused by a virus or bacterium entering the middle ear. This is often the result of another illness, as mentioned above. The outcome is you being congested and your throat, nasal passages and Eustachian tubes swelling.
Eustachian tubes as a cause
Your Eustachian tubes are two narrow tubes running behind the nasal passages, from your middle ears to the higher end of the back of your throat.
Where theses tubes meet the throat, they are responsible for opening and closing in order to the perform following functions:
- Bring in fresh air to the ears
- Drain the normal secretions of the middle ear
- Regulate the air pressure of the middle ear
When these tubes become swollen, inflamed or filled with extra mucus due to an upper infection of the respiratory tract, or an allergy that is blocking them, this results in fluids accumulating in the middle ear. The symptoms of an ear infection normally appear due to a viral or bacterial infection of the fluid.
Ear infections tend to occur more commonly in children than adults, this is due to the fact that their Eustachian tubes are narrower than those of an adult and they are also more horizontal, making drainage more difficult.
Adenoids as a cause
Adenoids are the two small tissue pads found high up in the back of your nose, these have been known to also play a role in the activity of your immune system. This makes them vulnerable to potential infection, swelling and inflammation.
Due to adenoids being located near the Eustachian tube openings when the adenoids are infected, the tubes may become blocked. This results in adenoids being a contributing factor to a middle ear infection. Children have slightly large adenoids, making adenoids the result of many ear infections in children.
Other conditions of the middle ear
Middle ear conditions that are known to play a role in ear infections or can be the cause of middle ear problems that are similar to labyrinthitis are as follows (please note that these do not commonly lead to labyrinthitis):
- Otitis media with effusion (fluid buildup) – This refers to the buildup of fluid and inflammation without a viral or bacterial infection of the middle ear. This can be the result of a fluid buildup that doesn’t go away after an ear infection. It can also be the result of the Eustachian tubes being blocked.
- Chronic otitis media with effusion – This happens when there is remaining fluid in the middle ear that continuously returns without a viral or bacterial infection present. This often increases the likelihood of children developing new infections and affects their hearing.
- Chronic suppurative otitis media – This is an ear infection that is persistent and can result in the eardrum tearing or perforating.