What is Vestibular Neuronitis?

Vestibular neuronitis, also known as vestibular neuritis, is a neurological condition that is the result of inflammation in one or more of the nerves in your inner ear. Vestibular neuronitis can cause imbalance, dizziness, sensitivity to motion, visual problems and nausea. Symptoms can be mild, or they can be severe enough to interfere with daily life.

Vestibular Neuronitis Explained

In order to understand vestibular neuronitis, it’s important to look at the anatomy of the inner ear.

The fluid-filled inner ear, known as the labyrinth, consists of two primary parts:

  • The cochlea
  • The vestibular system

The cochlea is a critical component of our ability to hear. The vestibular system relates to our balance. “The cochlea and the vestibular system are connected to the brain by the 8th (vestibulocochlear) cranial nerve. One branch of this nerve, the auditory nerve, carries sound signals to the brain and another carries balance signals.” (Source)

The vestibular system helps control our balance. A virus affecting this delicate system can result in vestibular neuronitis.

Symptoms of Vestibular Neuronitis

Vestibular neuronitis often includes an acute phase and a chronic (post-acute) phase. The initial acute phase can last from a couple of days up to 10 days. The chronic phase of vestibular neuronitis can result in symptoms lasting for a few weeks or months. In some cases, it can result in long-term symptoms.

Generally, the acute onset of vestibular neuronitis is characterized by the following symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Vertigo
  • Balance problems

Certain head movements can worsen symptoms. Generally, symptoms will peak within the first 24 - 48 hours, and resolve after a few days.

In the post-acute phase, symptoms can include:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Milder nausea
  • Difficulty walking / balancing in busy environments
  • Motion sensitivity
  • A feeling of fullness in your ears

Causes of Vestibular Neuronitis

The most common cause of vestibular neuronitis is a viral infection in the inner ear. Other causes can include:

  • Thrombosis
  • Certain auto-immune deficiencies

Diagnosis of Vestibular Neuronitis

In order to diagnoses vestibular neuronitis, your primary physician may:

  • Refer you for a hearing test
  • Test for nystagmus

In some cases, your primary physician may refer you for Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to rule out an underlying cause such as a tumor.

Treating Vestibular Neuronitis

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) notes that “the mainstay in medical treatment for vestibular neuritis is generally supportive, often consisting of antiemetics, antihistamines, and benzodiazepines.”

Relieving the symptoms is often the primary treatment course for vestibular neuronitis. People who experience prolonged episodes of dizziness may be referred for a specialized form of physical therapy, known as vestibular therapy.

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