Vestibular Neuritis

Condition Basics

What is vestibular neuritis?

Vestibular neuritis is an inflammation of the vestibular nerve. The nerve is located in the inner ear. It carries signals that help with your balance from the inner ear to the brain.

The inflammation may cause sudden vertigo. This makes you feel like you're spinning or whirling.

What causes it?

The causes of vestibular neuritis are not clear. It can happen after a viral infection. More rarely, it can happen after an infection caused by bacteria. The trigger may be an upper respiratory infection, such as the flu or a cold. Less often, it may start after a middle ear infection.

The infection inflames the vestibular nerve. This causes the nerve to send incorrect signals to the brain that the body is moving. But your other senses (such as vision) don't 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 of vestibular neuritis is vertigo. Vertigo is not the same as feeling dizzy. Dizziness means that you feel unsteady or lightheaded. But vertigo makes you feel like you're spinning or whirling. It may make it hard for you to walk. Symptoms of vertigo and dizziness may be caused by many problems other than labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis.

Vertigo begins without warning. It often starts 1 to 2 weeks after you've had the flu or a cold. It may be severe enough to make you vomit or make you feel sick to your stomach. Vertigo slowly goes away over a few days to weeks. But for a month or longer, you may still get vertigo symptoms if you suddenly move your head a certain way.

How is it diagnosed?

Your doctor can tell if you have vestibular neuritis by doing a physical exam and asking about your symptoms and past health. Your doctor will look for signs of a viral infection.

If the cause of your vertigo is not clear, your doctor may do other tests. These may include a hearing test (audiometry), a test of your balance system called electronystagmography, or an MRI to rule out other problems.

How is vestibular neuritis treated?

Most of the time, vestibular neuritis goes away on its own. In most cases, this takes several weeks. If the cause is a bacterial infection, your doctor will give you antibiotics. But most cases are caused by viral infections, which can't be cured with antibiotics.

Your doctor may prescribe steroid medicines, which may help you get better sooner. The doctor may also give you other medicines, such as antiemetics, antihistamines, and sedatives. These are to help control the nausea and vomiting caused by vertigo.

Vertigo most often gets better as your body adjusts (compensation). Medicines like antihistamines can help your symptoms. But they may make it take longer for vertigo to go away. It's best to only use medicines when they are needed and for as little time as possible.

Staying active can help you get better. Check with your doctor about trying balance exercises at home. These include simple head movements and keeping your balance while you stand or sit. They may reduce symptoms of vertigo.

Credits

Current as of: April 28, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Karin M. Lindholm DO - Neurology