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HEALTH OUR expert; expert Dr JOANNA LONGSTAFFE Clinical director of the Independent General Practice answers your medical queries.

Byline: Dr JOANNA LONGSTAFFE

Q I WAS recently sent home from work after suffering with dizzy spells and losing my balance. My colleague mentioned that it might have been caused by an infection in my inner ear - she'd suffered with something I'd never heard of - labyrinthitis? What is it? A As always, it's impossible to diagnose without an actual examination but it does sound as if you might be suffering from an inner ear infection and possibly a condition called labyrinthitis, which is usually caused by a virus and can lead to problems with balance and hearing.

It occurs when the labyrinth - a delicate and important structure in the inner ear which detects body movement and controls balance - becomes inflamed.

Any damage to the area can cause a number of problems for sufferers.

The main causes of the condition include viral infections such as a cold or flu that can spread to the inner ear and in a smaller number of cases, a bacterial infection. Although less common, it is sometimes connected to severe stress or anxiety.

Symptoms of labyrinthitis are often very disruptive to everyday life and can be quite unpleasant. The most common include dizziness, loss of balance and vertigo. The infection can also cause nausea and sickness and in some cases it can affect hearing.

Less common symptoms include high temperature, neck pain or stiffness, changes in vision or blurriness and also tinnitus - ringing in the ear. Some sufferers also complain of pain in the ear, however, this is usually more common in the bacterial form.

A small number of people can suffer for months; often referred to as chronic labyrinthitis. Although the symptoms of chronic labyrinthitis are not as severe as the original infection they can still be very disruptive - especially if sufferers operate machinery or drive. The viral infection will have gone but the damage continues to cause problems.

A GP will be able to diagnose labyrinthitis based on the symptoms and a medical examination - a balance test might also be performed.

Most cases of the infection can be cleared up through self-help treatments such as plenty of rest and fluids. As you may be suffering from vertigo and dizziness, it is often better to stay in bed to avoid falling or injuring yourself, but these symptoms will usually ease within a few days.

Many people will have periods of time throughout the day when the symptoms are at their worst. When you feel a dizzy spell coming on, it is best to sit still in a comfortable position until the feeling passes. Avoiding alcohol, chocolate and caffeine will also help minimise the effects.

If the symptoms are particularly severe, a doctor may prescribe medication that can control dizziness, vertigo and loss of balance - or an anti-sickness medication to help with any nausea.

In most cases the infection will clear up as quickly as it came and unfortunately it will be a case of waiting it out. The most important thing to do is get plenty of rest and be sensible about the activities you can manage while suffering - especially while feeling dizzy.
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Dec 12, 2012
Words:518
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