An infection that invades the part of the inner ear chamber known as the vestibule can cause inflammation of the nerves that carry sound and balance information to the brain. As a result, one of two potential conditions can develop. In one condition known, as vestibular neuritis, the nerve that carries head position information is affected, leading to vertigo, dizziness, impaired balance, nausea, and vomiting. The other possibility, called labyrinthitis, affects the nerves for both balance and sound and causes hearing loss in addition to all of the problems associated with vestibular neuritis.
Vestibular neuritis and labyrinthitis usually follow a viral infection, though occasionally they can arise as a complication of a bacterial infection. A number of common viruses have been associated with vestibular neuritis and labyrinthitis, including the viruses that cause herpes, influenza, measles, rubella, mumps, hepatitis and Epstein-Barr #1. It is important to note that these types of infections are distinguished from the middle ear infections that are common in childhood, though chronic middle ear infections that go untreated can progress to the inner ear and cause vestibular neuritis or labyrinthitis.
Prompt Medical Treatment Prevents Complications
With prompt treatment vestibular neuritis and labyrinthitis can resolve completely. Treatment during the acute phase may consist of antiviral or antibiotic drugs to control the infection, steroids to reduce inflammation and a range of antinausea drugs to combat vertigo symptoms, including Benadryl, Antivert, and Valium1.
However, depending on the severity of the infection, some degree of chronic hearing impairment, balance loss or vertigo may occur. In the chronic phase, medical treatment often centers around balance retraining exercises.
Herbal Therapies May Help Reduce Recurrence
- In one study, a group of chronic vestibular neuritis patients who took ginkgo biloba alone showed similar levels of improvement in inner ear function after 6 months of treatment as compared to a group that took a combination of ginkgo biloba and the steroid drug methylprednisone #2.
- Vinpocetine, an herbal compound found in the periwinkle plant, Vinca minor, has been found to be effective at reducing vertigo as well as associated symptoms such as tinnitus (ringing in the ears), headache and unstable walking gait #3. However, while vinpocetin is considered generally safe, with extremely low toxicity and minor side effects, those side effects may include heightened dizziness and nausea. Vertigo patients should consult with a knowledgeable doctor or herbalist prior to using vinpocetine.
- Ginger is a herb that is widely recognized for its antinausea benefits and is commonly used to combat motion sickness. In a study, healthy patients were induced with vertigo by having cold or warm water placed in their external ear canals. Those who received ginger root prior to the water test experienced significantly less vertigo #4.
- Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric and one of the herbal medicine world’s most potent anti-inflammatory agents, has shown evidence for reducing nerve inflammation in preliminary animal studies5. For patients with chronic vestibular neuritis or labyrinthitis this safe, natural remedy may offer some much-needed relief. If you include curcumin in your treatment program, be aware that you may need to take high levels of up to 100 mg per kg of body weight per day #5 in order to achieve therapeutic effects.
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