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Margaret asked...

I think I have labrynthitis...

I think I have labyrinthitis, and am due to fly overseas in the next few days. What are the symptoms of labyrinthitis and will I be able to fly with it? I am not currently taking any medication.

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The answer

Labyrinthitis is the medical name for inflammation of the ‘labyrinth’ in your inner ear, commonly caused by a viral infection. Viral labyrinthitis often comes on quickly in otherwise healthy people, and symptoms may start after a simple cold.

What are the symptoms of labyrinthitis?

Symptoms of labrynthitis can include:

  • Dizziness
  • Vertigo
  • Hearing loss
  • Loss of balance

It is usually diagnosed on the basis of your symptoms. Many people refer to vertigo when they feel lightheaded or off balance. In medical terms, vertigo is different from other forms of dizziness because the dizziness has to be accompanied by a sensation that the room is spinning round. It can often be associated with feeling or sometimes being sick.

What are the causes of labyrinthitis?

Labyrinthitis can be either viral or bacterial. Viral infection usually stems from the chest, nose, mouth or airways, usually from a cold or flu.

Bacteria enter the inner ear from the middle ear when the membrane separating them is broken. This can happen from an ear infection or sometimes a brain infection (meningitis).

What is the treatment for labyrinthitis?

Here are a few ways to treat labyrinthitis:

Self-help

  • Drink plenty of water in early stages when the dizziness and vertigo is usually at its worst
  • Bed rest
  • Avoid alcohol and smoking
  • Avoid bright lights and noise.

Medication

  • Benzodiazepines (which slow down the central nervous system)
  • Anti-emetic (anti-sickness)
  • Corticosteroids (to reduce inflammation)
  • Antibiotics (if the cause is bacterial)

Can you fly with labyrinthitis?

Some people do find it makes their symptoms worse, however it should not do serious damage. Here are a few tips which may help:

  • Decongestants and nasal sprays
  • Air pressure regulating ear plugs may help during take-off and landing
  • Use techniques such as yawning and swallowing when you notice a change in air pressure
  • Do not travel in unpressurised aircraft

You may also be interested in...

Labyrinthitis - NHS Factsheet

Vertigo - NHS Factsheet

Dizziness - NHS Factsheet