What Causes Vestibular Neuritis?

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Some viral infections result in vestibular neuritis.
Some viral infections result in vestibular neuritis. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Vestibular neuritis occurs when the vestibular nerve, a nerve located in the inner ear that carries balance signals to the brain, is swollen. The swelling of the vestibular nerve results in vertigo, a condition in which a person feels out of balance, as if the room in spinning. Typically, vestibular neuritis occurs in one ear.

Cause

Generally, vestibular neuritis occurs after a person experiences a viral infections such as the flu or a cold. Once the vestibular nerve inflames, it will send signals to the brain indicating that the body is moving even when a person is sitting or standing still. While the brain is receiving these incorrect signals, the eyes do not detect movement. The result of this confusion of signals is an unbalanced or spinning feeling, which is vertigo.

Symptoms

The most prevalent symptom of vestibular neuritis is vertigo. When caused by vestibular neuritis, vertigo begins suddenly and with no warning, is severe for one to two days, often causes vomiting and nausea and gradually fades after few days but can last several weeks. As the severe vertigo symptoms fade, a person suffering from vestibular neuritis may experience a loss of balance or dizziness from sudden head movements for up to one month. In some cases, vestibular neuritis causes a ringing sound in the ears or permanent or temporary hearing loss

Testing and Diagnosis

Typically, a doctor can diagnose vestibular neuritis by the symptoms of nausea, vomiting and sudden vertigo. The doctor will perform a physical examination and take a medical history to determine the cause of the vertigo. The examination often includes a Dix-Hallpike test, used to determine if certain head movements trigger the vertigo. If a there is no clear cause of vertigo, a doctor might introduce additional tests such as a magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, an electronystagmography test for examining eye movements and hearing tests such as auditory brain stem response testing or a pure audiometry test.

Treatment

As vestibular neuritis will fade on its own within a few weeks, the goal of treatment is to keep patients comfortable during until the symptoms of vertigo fade. A doctor will prescribe drugs to control the vertigo symptoms such as sedatives, antihistamines and scopolamine. Typically, a patient will only take the drugs for one to two weeks to control the vertigo. In some cases, doctors will prescribe an antiemetic drug for severe vomiting and nausea related to vertigo.

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