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Inner Ear Infection - Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, Pictures

Updated on December 23, 2013


What is Inner Ear Infection?

Inner ear infection is a condition that resulted from viral invasion that leads to inflammation of the inner ear structure. It is a quite debilitating condition that can disrupt the normal function of the inner ear which is responsible for signal transmission to the brain and responsible for balance.

Inner ear is the innermost structure of the ear that is mainly responsible for transmitting signal to and from the brain and also functions in balance maintenance. The structure of the inner ear composed of a bony labyrinth located in the skull exactly at the temporal bone. The labyrinth is a hollow cavity that consists of two main parts each with their own function.

Cochlea is composed in the labyrinth and is responsible for sound transmission to the brain where it is interpreted. This structure is somewhat like a snail with tube filled with fluid and nerve endings where sound pass through for transmission.

Vestibular system is responsible for movement and sense of balance and is contained in the inner ear particularly in the vestibulum. This vestibular system within the inner ear has two components for movements; one is the semicircular canal that indicates the rotational movement; and the otoliths responsible for indicating the linear movement.

Labyrinth is the main affected including the vestibular nerve when there is an inner ear infection primarily from virus although bacterial infection can also affect the labyrinth. The condition of inner ear infection can be quite debilitating if no treatment is applied overtime. The inflammation from the infection can temporarily impair the hearing ability and there are cases although rare, can permanently lead to permanent hearing loss.


When an inner ear infection occurs, it involves the structure of the hollow cavity called labyrinth resulting to its inflammation and a disorder known as Labyrinthitis. The symptom manifested by the infection is mirrored through the onset of labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis.

Labyrinthitis happens when infection has set in both branches of the vestibule-cochlear nerve which manifests with episodes of dizziness or vertigo and may temporarily impair hearing ability.

Vestibular neuritis is characterized by an inflammation of the vestibular nerves after the infection has reached it resulting to vertigo or episodes of dizziness although no hearing impairment is involved.

The onset of symptoms in inner ear infection can vary from mild to severe with onset usually rapid and lasts for several days. The symptoms can also recur suddenly that quality of life may be affected and may hinder daily activities. Symptoms may stay for several days to weeks depending on the overall health condition of the patient and the severity of the infection. The symptoms may be triggered and made worse with movements like rolling over, sitting up, and head nodding, looking upward and quick sideways movement of the head.

The onset of symptoms in inner ear infection has the early symptoms or the initial stage and the acute phase or the advance stage of the infection.

The early symptoms or the initial stage of symptoms occurs suddenly and which may go from mild to severe in degree. Symptoms in the acute phase include the following:

  • Vertigo or episodes of dizziness
  • Impaired sense of balance
  • Tinnitus or the ringing in the ear
  • Onset of fever
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Difficulty in eye focus or with involuntary eye movement
  • Disorientation
  • Impaired hearing ability of high frequency over one ear or the affected ear
  • Sensitive to too much light or bright lights

Advanced symptoms occur during the later stage of the infection. The symptoms recur after gradual recovery and which usually lasts for several weeks. The infection during this stage has become acute with the following observable symptoms:

  • Spatial disorientation has become consistent
  • Confusion and forgetfulness
  • Problem concentrating
  • Sensitivity to temperature both hot and cold
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Slight movement can trigger nausea and vomiting
  • Speech is impaired or may become slurred
  • Impaired hearing ability both in high and low frequency
  • Perception of pain in the affected ear
  • There are some patient who experiences panic attack

The symptom of vertigo, pain, disorientation, difficulty concentrating and focusing affects the quality of life of the affected individual as it can hinder daily activities. The unpredictable recurrence of the symptoms can also endanger an affected individual in active movement such as driving vehicle or walking in the streets. It is rather debilitating when the symptoms has become acute usually as a result of neglect of condition which has remained untreated for over a period of time.


Inner ear infection is the result of viral infection and may sometimes be due to a bacterial infection. Viral infection can originate from conditions such as common colds or flu. The onset of labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis is often from a systemic viral illness or from a viral infection directly in the vestibule-cochlear nerve or labyrinth. Inner ear infection can occur or may be triggered by the following:

  • Herpes viruses that commonly cause chicken pox, shingles and cold sore
  • Viral illnesses such as chicken pox, rubella, mumps, polio, measles and Epstein-Barr
  • History of respiratory illness such as bronchitis
  • Middle ear infection which extended to the inner ear
  • Viral infection of the stomach

Viral infection generally infects people who are at risk for developing which include the following:

  • Heavy smoker
  • Heavy alcohol drinker
  • Lack in sleep and often fatigued or tired.


It is important to identify the virus that has infected the ear before prompt treatment can be given. Treatment is geared towards the relief of symptoms while eliminating the virus that has infected the inner ear. Nausea and vomiting is usually prescribed with medications to control and managed the symptom while preventing secondary complication of dehydration. Antibiotics are prescribed to those with active infection. Earache can be relieved with pain reliever and warm compress. Inner ear infection on the other, usually resolves after about a week or three although it is still important to have the ear checked by a doctor for prompt treatment.


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