Otitis Interna: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Otitis Interna: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Otitis interna describes a serious infection or inflammation in the inner ear. Usually, most ear infections affect the outer ear (otitis externa) or middle ear (otitis media). Because the part of your inner ear resembles a labyrinth, otitis interna is sometimes referred to as labyrinthitis. Any infection in your inner ear can affect your balance, make you feel as if your head is spinning, and result in a temporary hearing loss.

The most common cause of otitis interna is a bacterial or viral infection deep inside your ear. However, if you have received an injury to your head or ear, then you may experience symptoms related to otitis interna.

Usually, to get rid of otitis interna, it’s necessary to treat the underlying cause and get plenty of rest. However, there are many natural home remedies to help alleviate the symptoms of an inner ear infection. For example, because otitis interna often results in nausea and vomiting, home treatments that include ginger, peppermint, or cinnamon help to relieve the feelings of wanting to gag. Also, some natural antihistamines can help to reduce inflammation naturally in the inner ear.

In this article, you will learn more about the symptoms and causes of otitis interna and what to do if you want to get relief from its symptoms naturally.

What is Otitis Interna?

Otitis interna, or labyrinthitis, is inflammation or swelling in the structure in your inner ear. Your inner ear consists of a bony structure called the labyrinth. According to Dr. John Simic on eMedicineHealth, the labyrinth deep in your ear sends information about sounds to the brain and helps to control balance. 1

Dr. Simic also says that other conditions that don’t produce inflammation are also referred to as otitis interna. This is because damage to the labyrinth or a buildup of fluid can cause faulty signals to be sent to the brain which results in dizziness, hearing loss, or hearing a constant sound in the ear, which are similar symptoms to inner ear inflammation.

Symptoms of Otitis Interna

Vertigo is one of the symptoms of otitis interna. The feelings of vertigo can be so severe that it feels as if something is trying to pull you to the floor. Apart from finding it difficult to keep your balance and feeling dizzy, otitis interna can cause other symptoms.

Dr. Joseph Campellone on MedlinePlus says that inner ear inflammation and swelling can result in hearing loss in one ear, ringing in your ears (tinnitus), feeling that your eyes are moving on their own, or nausea and vomiting.2

Doctors from the National Health Service say that inner ear problems can also give you headaches, drainage from your ear, pain in your ear, or blurred vision.3

Causes of Otitis Interna

Let’s look at the various conditions that can affect the labyrinth deep in your ear and cause otitis interna.

Viral infection

The most common cause of otitis interna is a viral infection that affects the inner ear. There are various viruses that can leave you with the symptoms of labyrinthitis like dizziness, nausea, and vomiting, or ringing in your ears.

Dr. Jacqueline Payne on Patient.info says that viruses that cause infectious mononucleosis (glandular fever), a sore throat, a cold, or cold sore virus can cause inflammation in your inner ear. Sometimes, you might develop otitis interna without realizing that you have a virus infection.4

According to Dr. Anne Poinier on WebMD, the symptoms of otitis interna may even start up to 2 weeks after you have had a cold or flu. This can cause vertigo that slowly goes away, however, you may still have dizzy spells up to a month after recovering from a viral infection.5

Doctors usually recommend plenty of rest if you have had a viral infection and to take remedies to help reduce the severity of otitis interna symptoms.

Bacterial infection

A bacterial infection that can result in inflammation and swelling in the inner ear can cause otitis interna. Doctors from WebMD say that often a middle ear infection (otitis media) spreads to the inner ear causing the symptoms of otitis interna.6

Otitis interna that is caused by a bacterial infection can be a serious condition. Doctors from the NHS warn that bacterial labyrinthitis can be serious in young children. Also, meningitis can cause the inner part of your ear to become inflamed.3 This can also result in permanent hearing loss if not treated promptly.

Injury or trauma

Trauma to your head can damage the labyrinth deep in your ear causing a ringing in your ear, sharp pain in the ear, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. Otitis interna caused by a head injury can cause you to feel as if your head is spinning or you have difficulty keeping your balance.

Dr. Benjamin Wedro on eMedicineHealth says that even a minor head trauma can cause particles in the inner ear to break off and move around. This is called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. It can leave you with a feeling that you have been spinning around on a revolving chair.7

Dr. Wedro recommends that you lie down with your head slightly elevated and drink plenty of fluids. This can help to prevent falling and injuring yourself and reduce the effects of otitis interna.

Autoimmune condition

According to Dr. Mark Boston on Medscape, otitis interna can be caused by some autoimmune conditions. Autoimmune processes in the body that result in vertigo, ringing in the ears and lightheadedness occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy inner ear.8

Other causes of otitis interna

There are other reasons for labyrinthitis that can cause symptoms ranging from mild to severe. For example, Dr. John Simic says that allergies or alcohol abuse can lead to feelings of vertigo and ringing in the ears. Also, a benign tumor in your middle ear can also affect your balance because it pushes on the inner ear.1

Dr. Joseph Campellone on MedlinePlus says that stress can affect the body and the inner ear and be a reason for otitis interna. Dizziness, vertigo, and nausea from inflammation in the labyrinth is also a side effect of some medications.2

How to Treat Otitis Interna at Home

If you feel like your head is being pulled to the ground, dizziness, along with vomiting and nausea, then it is always best to see a doctor. This is to rule out the possibility that otitis interna isn’t caused by a bacterial infection.

There are many home remedies that you can use to alleviate the symptoms of otitis interna and help restore balance to your inner ear.

Natural antihistamines

Doctors may prescribe antihistamines to help reduce any swelling in your inner ear that is causing you to lose your balance. However, there are many natural antihistamines that can help to reduce allergic reactions and swelling.

For example, in my article on natural antihistamines to reduce allergic reactions, you can read about supplements that have a similar effect to antihistamines. One of these is stinging nettle (urtica dioica). A study into the anti-allergy effect of stinging nettle found that taking 300mg of freeze dried stinging nettle was just as, or more effective than over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines.9

To relieve other allergy related symptoms you can try some of these top 15 essential oils for allergies.

Anti-sickness home remedies

If vomiting and nausea are caused by otitis interna, you can try these home remedies for vomiting and nausea. For viral labyrinthitis, doctors usually prescribe medication to reduce vomiting and nausea. However, there are many natural alternatives that are just as effective.

Let’s look at 3 of the best natural remedies to help relieve nausea and vomiting:

Ginger is well-known for its anti-inflammatory effect on your intestines and its ability to reduce feelings of sickness. For example, the British Journal of Anaesthesia reported that taking ginger for nausea was just as effective as metoclopramide – a popular pharmaceutical for nausea.10

To use ginger to help reduce nausea and vomiting if you have otitis interna, you should grate about 1 inch of fresh ginger root and put it in a cup of boiling water. Cover the cup and let it infuse for a few minutes. Drink the ginger remedy every time you feel like puking or have feelings of sickness come over you.

Peppermint also helps to relieve nauseous feelings if you are suffering from inflammation deep in your ear. There are various ways that peppermint can help get rid of the symptoms of otitis interna. For example, studies have shown that peppermint oil capsules can reduce the frequency of bouts of vomiting.11

Another way to reduce feelings of vomiting and nausea that are associated with labyrinthitis is to inhale steam containing peppermint oil. One study into the anti-nausea effect of peppermint oil found that it helps to reduce the number of vomiting episodes and gave a person more energy.12 All you need to do is put a few drops of peppermint oil and lavender oil in an aromatherapy diffuser and inhale 2 or 3 times a day.

Cinnamon has also proven to help treat vomiting and nausea.14, 15 To use cinnamon to help reduce bouts of vomiting and nausea you can add 1/2 – 1 teaspoon of cinnamon powder or place a cinnamon stick (Ceylon cinnamon is the best) in a cup of boiling water. Cover and leave to infuse for 5 minutes. Then strain the water and sip slowly.

Lifestyle changes

Doctors also recommend certain lifestyle changes while you are suffering from otitis interna. Of course, if you are suffering from dizziness or lightheadedness, you should lie down to prevent falling and injuring yourself.

Doctors from the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom also recommend the following home-remedy methods to minimize symptoms of otitis interna:13

  • lie on your side to help feel better, preferably in a darkened room
  • don’t drink alcohol
  • avoid noisy surroundings


If you frequently suffer from otitis interna, then your doctor may recommend vestibular rehabilitation therapy to treat labyrinthitis naturally.

Doctors from the NHS say that these exercises help to retrain your brain to compensate for abnormal signals that cause labyrinthitis. These should be done under the supervision of a trained specialist.13

When to See a Doctor

If you have symptoms of otitis interna like vertigo, dizziness, or hearing loss for more than a few days then you should see a doctor. According to doctors from the NHS, the symptoms of labyrinthitis should improve gradually over a few weeks.3

Read my other related articles:

Article Sources

  1. eMedicineHealth. Labyrinthitis.
  2. MedlinePlus. Labyrinthitis.
  3. NHS. Labyrinthitis.
  4. PatientInfo. Vestibular neuritis and labyrinthitis.
  5. WebMD. Labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis.
  6. WebMD. Labyrinthitis.
  7. eMedicineHealth. Benign positional vertigo.
  8. Medscape. Labyrthinitis.
  9. BiomedSearch. Natural treatment of perennial allergic rhinitis.
  10. Br J Anaesth. 2000 Mar;84(3):367-71.
  11. Ecancermedicalscience. 2013; 7: 290.
  12. J Nat Science Res. 2013: 3(5).
  13. NHS. Treating labyrinthitis.
  14. US Oncol Hematol. 2011; 7(2): 91–97.
  15. . 2015 Apr; 17(4): e27032.

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