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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 is likely caused by a viral infection somewhere in the body. For example, it may be caused by the herpes virus (chickenpox), the flu, or measles.

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 the sudden start of severe 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 with vestibular neuritis begins without warning. It may start 1 to 2 weeks after you've had the flu or a cold. It is often 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 that come and go.

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 may 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), balance tests, 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.

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.

Once your symptoms start to get better, your doctor may recommend seeing a physical therapist. A physical therapist can teach you exercises to do at home to help you get better faster.

Credits

Current as of: August 25, 2022

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