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.

When the vestibulocochlear nerve becomes inflamed, the brain can't interpret these signals correctly, which then leads to symptoms such as vertigo, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

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.)

In other instances, it may be caused by a virus that just affects the vestibulocochlear nerve or the fluid-filled tubes and sacs of the inner ear. Usually, people only develop vestibular neuritis in one ear.

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.

Some people also report having dizziness and balance problems that last for months.

Complications of Vestibular Neuritis

The onset of vestibular neuritis can bring about sudden, severe symptoms that often send people to the emergency room and make it extremely difficult for people to go about their day. The symptoms start to subside over the next few weeks, but some people can experience trouble with balance or dizziness, and have trouble walking, standing, or even turning their head.
Difficulty balancing can also be dangerous, as it could cause a fall.

Related Conditions and Causes of Vestibular Neuritis

Labyrinthitis is another disorder that's caused by an infection, which can then trigger inflammation in the inner ear. Labyrinthitis can be caused by both viral and bacterial infections. Serous labyrinthitis can caused by bacteria that have infected the middle ear or the bone surrounding the inner ear, usually from a chronic, untreated middle ear infection (chronic otitis media). Another type of labyrinthitis, called suppurative labyrinthitis, is caused by bacteria that have infected the inner ear itself.
Labyrinthitis causes symptoms such as vertigo and dizziness, but can also trigger tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or hearing loss.

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.


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