Otitis Interna

The condition of inflammation of the inner ear is medically termed as otitis interna. It is different from otitis media, i.e., infection of the middle ear, or otitis externa, i.e., infection of the external ear. Inner ear infection is also rarer than otitis externa or otitis media. Another name for otitis interna is labyrinthitis.

Inner ear inflammation usually occurs due to infections, and occasionally occurs as a complication of middle ear infection. It can affect people of all ages.

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The inner ear is home to the hearing and balance organs. Hence, labyrinthitis patients may suffer from symptoms like hearing issues, balance problems, and dizziness.

Otitis interna is considered as a serious condition due to inner ear’s proximity to the brain. It has to be immediately treated and non-treatment can result in fatal complications.

Symptoms of otitis interna

A few common signs and symptoms of otitis interna are as follows:

  • Tinnitus, i.e., ringing noise inside the ears
  • Nystagmus, i.e., rapid movement of the eyes
  • Partial hearing loss; patients may not be able to hear from one side
  • Dizziness, confusion, lightheadedness
  • Otalgia, i.e., pain in ear
  • Vertigo, which is a condition that causes patients to feel that their surroundings are spinning quickly around them, even though they are not making any bodily movements. Severe vertigo may be characterized by vomiting and nausea. In some cases, vertigo can get triggered by certain specific body movements and/or postures of the head.
  • Additional symptoms include headache, nausea, vomiting, disturbances in sight, exhaustion, fever, pain and/or stiffness in neck, sensation of fullness in ear, discharge from affected ear, weak pressure points on the face, poor balance, and fever

People with otitis interna may not always experience all of the above mentioned symptoms. In some cases, patients may suffer from only dizziness or such other everyday symptom.

Causes of otitis interna

Otitis interna may be caused due to varied factors. A few common causes of labyrinthitis are listed below:

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  • Infections: Infection by bacteria and viruses can cause otitis interna.
    • Any bacteria that can gain entry into the inner ear can cause labyrinthitis. Bacteria that occur outside the ear or body rarely cause inner ear infections, unless they have already caused infections of the middle or external ear. In most cases, bacteria tend to spread from the brain and cause inner ear inflammation in people affected by encephalitis or meningitis. Sometimes, labyrinthitis may be caused by bacterial toxins that are able to gain entry to the inner ear.
    • Otitis interna can occur due to infections by varied kinds of virus, including those that cause flu, shingles, mumps, measles, and upper respiratory system infections. Viral infections-triggered labyrinthitis may cause permanent hearing loss depending on the severity and the type of virus that infects and inflames the inner ear.
  • Autoimmune disorders: In autoimmune conditions, the immune system mistakenly identifies healthy tissues and attacks them, thus causing inflammation. These disorders are long-term and may be caused by different factors, including genetic errors. For example, people with allergies may suffer an adverse immune system reaction after being exposed to an allergen, eventually resulting in inner ear inflammation.
  • Alien matter in inner ear: Otitis interna can occur due to actions of different kinds of substances and even medicines. These substances typically gain entry into the inner ear through the bloodstream.
    • Narcotics or illegal drugs, alcohol, medications, and toxins are some items that can cause inner ear damage and inflammation. A few of these substances are particularly damaging to inner ear tissue and therefore referred to as ototoxic. Exposure of inner ear to ototoxics can result in permanent hearing loss.
  • Injury/trauma: A trauma or injury to the head can lead to otitis interna depending on the severity of the trauma. Inner ear inflammation can also occur due to direct injury or trauma. Occasionally, inner ear may get injured due to surgery and develop otitis interna. Increased external pressure on the ears typically causes external ear problems, or uncommonly middle ear injuries. It does not result in injuries of the inner ear.

Treatment of otitis interna

Otitis interna is a serious condition and hence needs to be immediately treated. Treatment options are dependent on the underlying cause, as discussed below:

  • Bacterial infections of the inner ear are treated with antibiotics, pain killers, and other medications.
  • Viral infections tend to resolve without medical treatment. Hence, patients need not get treatment as long as viral infections do not affect the inner ear. Affected people need to take ample bed rest, keep hydrated, and follow self-care guidelines as advised by doctor for faster recovery. Sometimes, antiviral medications may be prescribed by physicians to ensure complete healing of the infection.
  • Severe inflammation and pain can be alleviated with anti-inflammatory drugs and/or corticosteroids
  • Prescription drugs can help over vertigo and associated symptoms
  • In case of otitis interna caused by toxins, the toxins need to be neutralized. Supportive care and management is provided till the elimination of toxins from the patient’s body.

 

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