Vertigo and Nausea Could Indicate an Inner Ear Infection

The auditory organ is divided into three main sections, known respectively as the outer, middle and inner ear. Infection in any of these areas is fairly common and may be caused by bacteria, fungi or viruses. By far the most common cause of earache arises from a microbial invasion that involves the middle section situated between the eardrum and the inner area and includes the Eustachian tube that connects it to the back of the throat or pharynx.

The condition is known as otitis media and is characterised by intense pain that is accompanied by a build-up of pus, causing pressure that may eventually rupture the eardrum. The rupture leads to relief of pressure and pain and, in most cases, will heal itself. The condition often occurs following a cold. While the body’s defence mechanisms are preoccupied with combatting the cold virus, opportunistic bacteria are sometimes able to gain a foothold. The most common causative organism is Streptococcus pneumonia but Haemophilus influenzae is also quite often implicated in this condition.

On occasions, otitis media may spread to involve the inner ear although it is viruses rather than bacteria that are, most often, the root cause of an infection in this area. More often, however, it occurs following an upper respiratory Involvement. The resulting condition is known by the medical term, labyrinthitis. It is usually unilateral in nature and acts to interfere with the normal operation of the vestibular system, a complex organ consisting of three fluid-filled, semicircular canals that are able to sense any changes in the position of the head and update the brain accordingly. It is this system, in conjunction with others that enables humans and other bipeds to maintain their balance and, thus, to stand, walk and run whilst in the erect position.

Although not normally accompanied by significant levels of pain, the symptoms of this disorder can, nevertheless, be extremely unpleasant. These may include tinnitus and some degree of hearing loss which may become permanent in extreme or untreated cases. However, vertigo and the accompanying loss of balance are, without doubt, the most distressing effects that are associated with labyrinthitis. The severe dizziness may make it totally impossible for the subject to stand and normally persists even when he or she is lying down. This will, invariably, lead to profound nausea and vomiting and is often accompanied by a feeling of acute anxiety.

In fact, not all patients that display these symptoms do so as the result of invasion by bacteria or viruses. Severe stress, head injuries, various allergies, pressure effects induced when flying or scuba diving and the side effects of certain medications have all been implicated as alternative causes of this condition.

Recovery from labyrinthitis will normally take between one to six weeks except where permanent damage may have occurred. In the latter case, residual symptoms have been known to persist for months or even years. Antispasmodics are commonly used to overcome the nausea during the acute phase but treatment of chronic balance disorders will normally require a special form of physiotherapy known as Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy or VRT.

It is advisable to consult an ENT specialist immediately if you display any of the symptoms of inner ear infection to minimise any long-term adverse effects to the ear.

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