Vestibular Neuritis and Labyrinthitis:
In vestibular neuritis, dizziness is attributed to a viral infection of the vestibular nerve (see figure 1). The vestibular nerve carries information from the inner ear about head movement. When one of the two vestibular nerves is infected, there is an imbalance between the two sides, and vertigo appears. Labyrinthitis, is defined as the combination of the symptoms of vestibular neuritis, with the addition of hearing symptoms. It may be due to a process that affects the inner ear as a whole, or due to a process that affects the 8th nerve as a whole. Labyrinthitis is also always attributed to an infection. The symptoms of both vestibular neuritis and labyrinthitis typically include dizziness or vertigo, disequilibrium or imbalance, and nausea. Acutely, the dizziness is constant. After a few days, symptoms are often only precipitated by sudden movements. A sudden turn of the head is the most common “problem” motion. While patients with these disorders can be sensitive to head position, it is generally not related to the side of the head which is down (as in BPPV), but rather just whether the patient is lying down or sitting up.
It usually takes 3 weeks to recover from vestibular neuritis or labyrinthitis. Recovery happens due to a combination of the body fighting off the infection, and the brain getting used to the vestibular imbalance (compensation). Some persons experience persistent vertigo or discomfort on head motion even after 3 weeks have gone by. After two to three weeks a referral to a vestibular rehabilitation program, may help speed full recovery via compensation.