02 Dec Inner Ear Infection
The ear is made up of three parts. The outer ear includes the part you can see and the canal that leads to the eardrum. The middle ear is separated from the outer ear by the eardrum and contains tiny bones that amplify sound. The inner ear is where sounds are translated to electrical impulses and sent to your brain.
The inner ear contains vital organs of balance – the vestibular system, which detects gravity and back-and-forth motion. When you move your head, signals from these organs are sent via the vestibular nerve to your brain where they are processed.
The most common inner ear infection is vestibular neuronitis – also known as Labyrinthitis – which is the inflammation of the vestibular nerve, and is probably caused by a viral infection.
The main symptom is sudden and dramatic vertigo, which may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Your eyes may also involuntarily flutter towards the affected side of the head.
Nausea is often accompanied by anxiety and a general ill feeling due to the distorted balance signals that the brain receives from your inner ear.
The result is the unsettling sensation of the world spinning, as well as possible hearing loss or ringing in your ears. It can occur as a single attack, a series of attacks, or a persistent condition that diminishes over three to six weeks.
30% of affected people had a common cold prior to developing the disease; however, others will have no viral symptoms prior to the vertigo attack.
A small number of inner ear infections is thought to be caused by an infection of the inner ear by the herpes simplex type 1 virus. Additional symptoms in these cases may include small blisters on the outer ear and ear canal and perhaps on the face and neck.
Risks and complications
Ear infections in adults can lead to serious consequences, including hearing loss if left unchecked. An untreated infection may also spread to other parts of the body.
Any suspected ear infection should be diagnosed by a doctor. People with a history of recurrent ear infections should be seen by an ear specialist.
A doctor’s guidance can help you relieve your symptoms and treat the infection, as well as take steps to prevent the infection reoccurring.
Treatment depends on the cause and severity of the infection, along with other health problems you may have. Antibiotics are not effective against ear infections caused by most viruses.
Treatment options for most inner ear infections include:
- medications, including antihistamines
- anti-nausea medications
- vestibular physiotherapy – to help your brain to compensate or retrain.
Rehabilitation strategies utilising exercises that challenge the vestibular system may also be prescribed:
- Gaze stability exercises – moving the head from side to side while fixated on a stationary object
- Habituation exercises – movements designed to provoke symptoms and reduce the negative vestibular response upon repetition
- Functional retraining – including postural control, relaxation, and balance training.
Where the inner ear is affected by the herpes simplex virus, treatment options include:
- antiviral medications including steroids and as prescribed by your doctor
- pain-relieving medications.
Some simple everyday steps help prevent many ear infections. Some basic hygiene tips and lifestyle choices will also support prevention.
Quitting smoking is an important step in preventing upper respiratory and ear infections, as smoking directly damages the delicate tissues in this part of the body, as well as decreasing the effectiveness of your body’s immune system.
You shouldn’t use cotton swabs or other objects to clean out the ears, as these can injure the ear canal and eardrum, leading to an infection. Anyone trying to prevent ear infections should also avoid putting their fingers in or near their ears.
If you suffer from allergies, you should avoid their allergy triggers as much as possible to reduce the inflammation and mucus build-up that could contribute to an infection.