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Labyrinthitis is an inflammation of the inner ear that is often a complication of infection of the middle ear (otitis media). It is usually caused by the spread of bacterial or viral infections from the head or respiratory tract into the inner ear.
The labyrinth is a group of interconnected canals chambers located in the inner ear. It is made up of the cochlea and the semicircular canals. The cochlea is involved in transmitting sounds to the brain. The semicircular canals send information to the brain about the head's position and how it is moving. The brain uses this information to maintain balance. Labyrinthitis is caused by the inflammation of the labyrinth. Its most frequent symptom is vertigo (dizziness), because the information that the semicircular canals send to the brain about the position of the head is affected.
Labyrinthitis is rare and is more likely to occur after middle ear infections, meningitis, or upper respiratory infection. It may also occur after trauma, because of a tumor, or after the ingesting of toxic substances. It is thought to be more common in females than in males.
When a disease agent causes labyrinthitis, the disease agent usually reaches the inner ear by one of three routes:
Labyrinthitis can also be caused by toxins, by a tumor in the ear, by trauma to the ear, and sometimes high doses of medications or allergies.
The primary symptoms of labyrinthitis are vertigo and hearing loss, along with a sensation of ringing in the ears called tinnitus. Vertigo occurs because the inner ear controls the sense of balance, as well as hearing. Some individuals also experience nausea and vomiting and spontaneous eye movements in the direction of the unaffected ear. Bacterial labyrinthitis may produce a discharge from the infected ear.
If a child has vertigo, especially along with nausea, vomiting, or hearing loss, the doctor should be called.
Author Info: Helen Davidson, Thomson Gale, Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Children's Health, 2006This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your healthcare provider. Please consult a healthcare professional with any health concerns you may have.
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