Vestibular neuritis causes symptoms such as vertigo and nausea. It happens when the vestibular nerve, which sends signals from the ear to the brain, becomes inflamed or irritated.
Doctors and researchers believe that vestibular neuritis follows or accompanies a viral or bacterial infection.
Experts suggest that the symptoms typically develop over several hours and are the most severe within the first day or two. They may worsen when the person moves their head.
Vestibular neuritis symptoms typically go away without treatment within several days, though it may take weeks or months for every symptom to completely disappear.
This article provides more information about the symptoms of vestibular neuritis, its causes, and when to see a doctor.
The symptoms of vestibular neuritis can range from mild to severe and typically include:
- balance issues
- difficulty seeing
- difficulty concentrating
The symptoms can be constant but tend to worsen when a person moves their head.
Vestibular neuritis can be acute or chronic. If it is acute, the symptoms may appear suddenly, sometimes when a person wakes up.
If it results from a viral infection, the vestibular nerve can become damaged. This can result in chronic dizziness.
Symptoms of acute vestibular neuritis typically last for several days, though it may take weeks or months for all of the symptoms completely resolve.
They tend to develop over several hours and are at their worst within 24–48 hours.
Other symptoms, including headaches, typically do not occur. If additional symptoms are present, a doctor should rule out other causes.
Taking certain medications, practicing exercises, and adapting the diet may help.
During the acute stage of vestibular neuritis, a doctor may prescribe:
- antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine or meclizine
- antiemetics, such as promethazine or metoclopramide
- benzodiazepines, such as diazepam or lorazepam
These medications may help suppress nausea and dizziness.
It is crucial to take these medications for 3 days at most. Continued use can prevent the brain from compensating for the vertigo, and this can lead to ongoing vertigo.
The doctor may also prescribe antiviral or antibiotic medications to treat any underlying infection.
The doctor may also recommend vestibular rehabilitation. This involves performing a series of exercises to help regain balance and reduce vertigo.
The following exercises can help:
- Stand with the legs spread a bit further apart than the shoulders.
- Raise one hand straight up, and tilt the head slightly to look at the hand.
- Bend at the waist, keeping the eyes on the raised hand.
- While bending, stretch the other hand down until it touches the opposite ankle.
- Repeat on the other side.
Another exercise involves swaying forward and backward. To perform it:
- Stand up straight with the feet close together.
- Slowly rock backward onto the heels, extending the arms forward for balance.
- Then come foward, shifting the body’s center of gravity onto the toes.
- In this position, arch the back slightly and push the hips forward, letting the arms hang by the sides.
- Transition back and forth several times.
A person can do these exercises at home.
Diet tips and other strategies
To help minimize or relieve vestibular neuritis symptoms:
- avoid foods and drinks that contain high levels of salt or sugar
- avoid nicotine
- remain hydrated
- avoid alcohol
- get rest
If a person is experiencing nausea and vomiting, it may be a good idea to avoid solid foods and suck on ice chips to remain hydrated.
When the symptoms begin to ease, it may be time to try clear fluids, including:
- sports drinks
- clear broths
- gelatin-based deserts
- flat ginger ale
- coconut water
- peppermint tea
However, people with nausea should limit themselves to 1–2 ounces of liquid every 10–15 minutes.
Once a person feels well enough, they should eat bland foods, such as toast or soup with crackers.
It is a good idea to avoid anything that contains dairy or caffeine.
There are many possible causes of vestibular neuritis, including:
- the flu
- a cold
- rubella, a viral infection that can cause a rash, a fever, and body aches
- mumps, a viral infection that can cause a fever, headaches, and body aches
- measles, a viral infection that can cause a rash, a high fever, and a cough
- chickenpox, a viral infection that can cause itchy, painful blisters
- shingles, a viral infection that develops from chickenpox and can cause a painful rash, a fever, and chills
A doctor tends to diagnose vestibular neuritis after ruling out other conditions.
They may start by asking about any symptoms that accompany the vertigo. For example, changes in hearing can point to vestibular labyrinthitis, a similar but distinct condition that we describe below.
Before diagnosing vestibular neuritis, the doctor may attempt to rule out other factors that can cause the same symptoms, including:
- side effects of medications
- a head injury
- a stroke
- neurological disorders
- cardiovascular disease
- effects of caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, or some illegal drugs
Neuritis refers to inflammation of the nerve. Labyrinthitis refers to inflammation of the labyrinth, a part of the inner ear that helps control hearing and balance.
When a person has vestibular neuritis, they will not experience hearing loss. If they have labyrinthitis, they will experience some hearing loss along with vertigo and tinnitus.
Speak to a doctor about any symptoms of vestibular neuritis.
This is especially important when a person is unable to keep liquids down. Too much vomiting can lead to dehydration, which can require additional treatment.
Some symptoms of vestibular neuritis can also occur with a stroke. If a person suspects that they or someone else has experienced a stroke, they should contact emergency services immediately.
Signs of a stroke include:
- slurred speech
- problems with vision
- numbness or tingling
- weakness on one side of the body
Symptoms of vestibular neuritis typically develop over the course of a few hours and last for several days, though they may take weeks or months to resolve completely.
Home care, dietary changes, and medications can help manage symptoms and treat any underlying viral or bacterial infection.
In many cases, symptoms clear on their own.
Vestibular neuritis often occurs after or alongside a viral or bacterial infection. It causes vertigo, nausea, and difficulties with vision and concentration.
Symptoms of vestibular neuritis are similar to those of more serious conditions, which a doctor will want to rule out.
In most cases, vestibular neuritis clears up on its own, though medications, dietary changes, and certain exercises can help.