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Vestibular Neuronitis

(Viral Labyrinthitis)


Lawrence R. Lustig

, MD, Columbia University Medical Center and New York Presbyterian Hospital

Last full review/revision Jun 2021| Content last modified Jun 2021
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Vestibular neuronitis causes a self-limited episode of vertigo, presumably due to inflammation of the vestibular division of the 8th cranial nerve; some vestibular dysfunction may persist.

Sometimes vestibular neuronitis is used synonymously with viral labyrinthitis. However vestibular neuronitis only presents with vertigo, while viral labyrinthitis is also accompanied by tinnitus, hearing loss, or both.

Although etiology is unclear, a viral cause is suspected. Vestibular neuronitis is usually unilateral.

Symptoms and Signs of Vestibular Neuronitis

The condition slowly subsides over days to weeks after the initial episode. Some patients have residual dysequilibrium, especially with rapid head movements, probably due to permanent vestibular injury.

Diagnosis of Vestibular Neuronitis

Treatment of Vestibular Neuronitis

  • Symptom relief with antiemetics, antihistamines, or benzodiazepines

Symptoms of vestibular neuronitis are symptomatically addressed over the short term as in Meniere disease Treatment Meniere disease is an inner ear disorder that causes vertigo, fluctuating sensorineural hearing loss, and tinnitus. There is no reliable diagnostic test. Vertigo and nausea are treated symptomatically... read more , ie, with anticholinergics, antiemetics (eg, prochlorperazine or promethazine 25 mg rectally or 10 mg orally every 6 to 8 hours), antihistamines or benzodiazepines, and a corticosteroid burst with rapid taper. If vomiting is prolonged, IV fluids and electrolytes may be required. Long-term use (ie, for more than several weeks) of vestibular suppressants is highly discouraged because these drugs delay vestibular compensation, particularly in older patients. Vestibular rehabilitation (usually given by a physical therapist) helps compensate for any residual vestibular deficit.

Key Points

  • Patients have severe, constant vertigo with nausea and vomiting and nystagmus towards the affected side lasting days to weeks.

  • There is no hearing loss or tinnitus.

  • Testing is done to exclude other disorders.

  • Treatment is directed at symptoms and includes antiemetics and antihistamines or benzodiazepines; corticosteroids may also be helpful.

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