Understanding Vestibular Neuritis : Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Recovery

What is vestibular neuritis?

Vestibular neuritis, also referred to as vestibular neuritis, is a condition that causes  vertigo and dizziness. It results from inflammation of your vestibular nerve, a nerve in the ear that sends information to your brain about balance. When this nerve becomes inflamed or swollen, it interrupts the way your brain reads information. This results in dizziness, vertigo and other balance-related symptoms.

Doctors and researchers belive that vestibular neuritis follows or accompanies a viral or bacterial infection. Vestibular neuritis usually improves after a few days. However, the symptoms can take about three weeks to subside. You may also have recurring periods of dizziness and vertigo for several months.

1. What is the difference between Vestibular neuritis and labyrinthitis?

Vestibular neuritis is often confused with labyrinthitis. While the two conditions are very similar, there are slight differences.

Vestibular neuritis refers to inflammation of your vestibular nerve only. labyrinthitis refers to inflammation of the labyrinth, a part of the inner ear that helps control hearing and balance.

When a person has vestibular neuritis, they will not experience hearing loss. If they have labyrinthitis, they will experience some hearing loss along with vertigo and 

2. What are the symptoms of vestibular neuritis?

Typically, people with vestibular neuritis go through an acute phase and a chronic phase. In most cases, this means sudden, severe symptoms for about one week, followed by milder symptoms that last anywhere from a few weeks to several months. It’s rare, but some people develop long-term vestibular neuritis symptoms which last for years.

Acute vestibular neuritis

The initial phase of vestibular neuritis lasts up to a few days. Symptoms vary and may include:

  • Sudden, severe vertigo (a spinning sensation) 
  • Intense dizziness (feeling lightheaded or unsteady) 
  • Severe balance issues
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Severe motion sensitivity
  • Nystagmus a condition where you can’t control your eye movements.

Chronic vestibular neuritis

The chronic phase of vestibular neuritis can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months and may include symptoms such as:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Mild dizziness with head and body movements
  • Mild nausea
  • Some difficulty walking, especially in busy environments
  • A feeling of fullness in your ears
  • Mild motion sensitivity 
  • Anxiety

Keep in mind that vestibular neuritis symptoms vary from person to person. Your symptoms will depend on several factors, including the exact cause, the area of nerve damage and your medical history. In extreme cases, people may have permanent hearing loss or damage to their inner ear.

3. What are the risk factors for vestibular neuritis?

Having a viral infection is the main risk factor for vestibular neuritis. Examples of viral infections include:

  • Flu (influenza)
  • Polio
  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Mononucleosis
  • Rubella
  • Shingles
  • Chicken pox

In some cases, bacterial infections can cause vestibular neuritis. However, labyrinthitis is more likely to be caused by bacteria. Rarely is caused by bacterial infection or an autoimmune disease. 

4. Is vestibular neuritis contagious?

The condition itself isn’t contagious. In other words, you can’t catch vestibular neuritis from someone else who has it. But you can pass the viruses that cause vestibular neuritis to other people.

5. How is it diagnosed?

Before making a diagnosis, your doctor will try to rule out any serious causes of your dizziness, such as:

  • Stroke.
  • Head injury.
  • Brain tumor.
  • Migraine headaches

They might do this by using an MRI scan.

Next, they’ll likely test your hearing  to narrow down which nerves are affected. Your healthcare provider may also use the following tests to confirm your diagnosis:

  • Otoendoscopy
  • Hearing test – Audiometry 
  • Balance assessment test

6. What is the cure for vestibular neuritis?

The main goal of vestibular neuritis treatment is to manage your symptoms. To do this, your healthcare provider may recommend:

  • Medications:
  • Anti-nausea medications.
  • Drugs to reduce dizziness.
  • Drugs to reduce inflammation.
  • Antiviral medications.
  • Vestibular rehabilitation exercises- This involves doing gentle movements, to help your brain adjust to changes in your balance. 
Some examples of exercises may include:
  • Shifting your body weight from side to side or front to back while standing
  • Focusing your eyes on an object while turning your head from side to side
  • Focusing your eyes on a distant target while walking toward it and taking occasional glances at the floor

Vestibular physical therapy exercises can usually be done at home, ideally two or three times a day.

7. Diet tips and other strategies

To help minimize or relieve vestibular neuritis symptoms:

  • avoid foods and drinks that contain high levels of salt or sugar
  • avoid nicotine
  • remain hydrated
  • avoid alcohol
  • get rest

8. Recovery time for Vestibular Neuritis?

You should notice an improvement in your symptoms within a few days, though it can take about three weeks to fully recover. Keep in mind that you may still feel occasional dizziness for several months.

While vestibular neuritis can make it hard to do your usual physical activities, try to keep moving as much as possible while you recover. This can help your body regain its sense of balance sooner.

Take Home Message:

  • Vestibular neuritis often occurs after or alongside a viral or bacterial infection. 
  • It causes vertigo, nausea, and difficulties with vision and concentration.
  • Symptoms of vestibular neuritis are similar to those of more serious conditions, which a doctor will want to rule out. 
  • In most cases, vestibular neuritis clears up on its own, though medications, dietary changes, and certain exercises can help.

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