What Is Vestibular Neuritis? Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention
Vestibular neuritis occurs when the nerve in the inner ear becomes inflamed, causing sudden, severe vertigo (a feeling of spinning or motion). It's usually caused by a viral infection, which then triggers swelling in the vestibulocochlear nerve — the same nerve that's responsible for relaying information about balance and head movement to the brain.
Signs and Symptoms of Vestibular Neuritis
The symptoms of vestibular neuritis often come on so suddenly that people are alarmed and see their doctor — or even go the emergency room — soon after. The symptoms can appear when you first wake up, or they can develop later in the day. They include:
- Sudden, severe vertigo
- Difficulty balancing or walking
- Nausea and vomiting
Causes and Risk Factors of Vestibular Neuritis
Vestibular neuritis is thought to develop when a person catches a viral infection such as measles, mumps, or hepatitis. (The herpes virus, which causes cold sores or chickenpox and shingles, has also been associated with vestibular neuritis.)
How Is Vestibular Neuritis Diagnosed?
Prognosis of Vestibular Neuritis
But because the condition can be caused by a virus, it's possible for the infection to go dormant, then flare up again in the future. It's not possible to predict who will develop vestibular neuritis again.Recurrence is infrequent, though, with studies showing it affects between 2 and 11 percent of patients, according to Stat Pearls.
Duration of Vestibular Neuritis
The most severe symptoms of vestibular neuritis — like intense vertigo and dizziness — only last a few days. But for many people, the recovery process is gradual, and it can take about three weeks for the symptoms to fully fade away.
Treatment and Medication Options for Vestibular Neuritis
There are several medications available that can treat the acute symptoms of nausea and dizziness, including:
- Benadryl (diphenhydramine)
- Antivert (meclizine)
- Phenergan (promethazine hydrochloride)
- Ativan (lorazepam)
- Valium (diazepam)
Vestibular Physical Therapy
If you've been experiencing symptoms like dizziness for longer than a few weeks, your doctor may recommend that you start a balance rehabilitation program. These exercises can help your brain adjust to any lingering changes in balance.
Some examples of exercises may include:
- Shifting your body weight from side to side or front to back while standing
- Focusing your eyes on an object while turning your head from side to side
- Focusing your eyes on a distant target while walking toward it and taking occasional glances at the floor
Prevention of Vestibular Neuritis
Complications of Vestibular Neuritis
Research and Statistics: How Many People Have Vestibular Neuritis?
Related Conditions and Causes of Vestibular Neuritis
Resources We Love
VeDA (Vestibular Disorders Association)
VeDA is a nonprofit organization that seeks to educate the public about vestibular disorders and connect patients with doctors who can diagnose and treat the conditions.
Additional reporting by Ingrid Strauch.
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
- Vestibular Neuritis. Cleveland Clinic. May 31, 2019.
- Labyrinthitis and Vestibular Neuritis. Vestibular Disorders Association (VeDA).
- Vestibular Neuronitis. StatPearls. July 10, 2020.
- Vestibular Neuritis. Seminars in Neurology. 2009.
- Balance Problems. Mayo Clinic. June 18, 2020.
- Vestibular Neuronitis. Merck Manual. June 2020.