Inner Ear Disorders Ear36 Inner Ear Disorders

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Inner Ear Disorders Ear36 ()

Inner Ear Disorders

Last updated: September 5, 2017

Motion Sickness 1

Ménière Disease 3

Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo 10

Vestibular Neuronitis 13

Viral Labyrinthitis 14

Purulent Labyrinthitis 15

Labyrinthitis Ossificans 16

Sudden Hearing Loss 17

Perilymphatic (s. Labyrinthine) Fistula 18

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss 20

Presbycusis 24

Drug-Induced Ototoxicity (s. Toxic Labyrinthitis) 27

Superficial Siderosis 29

Trauma, Temporal Bone Fractures → see p. TrH5 >>

Acoustic Neuroma (s. Acoustic Schwannoma) → see p. Onc62 >>

Vestibular suppressants, general management of vertigo → see p. Ear34 >>

Motion Sickness


- excessive stimulation of vestibular apparatus

  • individual susceptibility varies greatly.

  • aggravating factors: visual stimuli (e.g. moving horizon), poor ventilation (fumes, smoke, carbon monoxide), emotional factors (e.g. fear, anxiety).

Specific forms:

    1. Sea, air, car, train, swing sickness - motion (repetitive angular and linear acceleration and deceleration) is etiologic factor.

    2. Space adaptation syndrome - weightlessness (zero gravity) is etiologic factor; adaptation occurs over several days; can recur with reentry (as gravity force increases again).

Symptoms & Signs

- cyclic nausea & vomiting

  • may be preceded by: yawning, hyperventilation, salivation, pallor, profuse cold sweating, blood pressure changes, somnolence, aerophagia, dizziness, headache, general discomfort, and fatigue.

  • with prolonged exposure, patient may adapt and gradually return to well-being; symptoms may recur if motion increases or recurs after short respite.

  • prolonged motion sickness (with vomiting) may lead to dehydration, inanition, depression.

Prophylaxis and Treatment

Prevention is easier than treatment!

  1. position yourself where motion is least (e.g. in middle of ship close to water level, over wings in airplanes)

  2. supine / semirecumbent position with head supported is best.

  3. avoid visual fixation on waves or other moving objects, avoid reading.

  4. keep axis of vision at 45° angle above horizon.

  5. well-ventilated cabin is important, and going out on deck for breath of fresh air helps.

  6. small amounts of fluids + simple food should be consumed frequently during extended travel; if air travel is short, food and fluids should be avoided (alcoholic / dietary excesses before or during travel increase likelihood of motion sickness).

  7. in space adaptation syndrome, movement (which aggravates symptoms) should be avoided.

  8. prophylactic drugs (1 hour before departure):

dimenhydrinate, diphenhydramine, meclizine, cyclizine 50 mg po, promethazine 25 mg po - to sedate vestibular system;

scopolamine 0.6 mg po (dermal patch applied 4 h before departure can deliver smaller doses - 0.5 mg over 3 days) - minimize vagal-mediated GI symptoms;

diazepam 5-10 mg po - to sedate vestibular system.

  • dosages should be appropriately modified for prolonged travel.

  • if vomiting occurs, drug must be given rectally / parenterally.

  1. prolonged vomiting → i/v fluids & electrolytes.

Ménière Disease


- generalized dilation of membranous labyrinth (endolymphatic hydrops).

  • prevalence ≈ 1% (≈ 50% patients have notable family history).

  • seen at almost all ages; typical onset begins at early-to-middle adulthood.

  • cause unknown.

Ménière disease is idiopathic.

Ménière syndrome is secondary to specific condition (e.g. endocrine abnormalities, trauma, electrolyte imbalance, autoimmune dysfunction, medications, infections [parasitic, syphilis], hyperlipidemia).

  • relative overproduction / underabsorption of endolymph → increased hydraulic pressure within endolymphatic system.

  • physical distention by increased endolymphatic pressure leads to mechanical disturbance of otolithic organs (→ nonrotational vestibular symptoms) and organ of Corti (→ hearing loss and tinnitus).

  • vertigo is caused by break in membrane separating perilymph (K-poor extracellular fluid) and endolymph (K-rich intracellular fluid) → chemical mixture bathes vestibular nerve receptors, leading to depolarization blockade and transient function loss (sudden change in vestibular nerve firing rate creates acute vestibular imbalance); symptoms improve after membrane is repaired and normal Na and K concentrations are restored.

  • unilateral (≈ 20% bilateral).

Clinical Features

Classical tetrad:

  1. Recurrent prostrating vertigo (usually spinning sensation, sometimes violent).

  • vertigo attacks appear suddenly; last for hours (up to 24 h); subside gradually.

  • attacks are associated with nausea & vomiting, significant nystagmus.

Direction of nystagmus is not reliable indicator of lesion site - irritative phase during attack (fast phases toward involved ear), may be followed by paretic phase (fast phases toward opposite ear).

  • vertigo is so sudden in onset and so intense that patients find themselves on floor as if pushed by invisible force, even from sitting position (can cause devastating accidents and falls).

  • neither loss of consciousness nor other neurologic symptoms accompany fall.

  • anxiety and panic reactions are generated by fear that vertigo may occur at any moment.

  • diagnostic tests – Romberg test, Fukuda marching step test.

  1. Low-frequency sensory hearing loss – fluctuates (improving between attacks!!!) but progressively worsens over years.

  2. tinnitus (usually low-tone roaring) - constant or intermittent; may be worse before, after, or during vertigo attack.

  3. Aural fullness (feeling of discomfort, fullness, pressure in affected ear) – may be as “warning” symptom.

  • disease often presents with just 1 or 2 symptoms months to years before manifesting entire tetrad.

  • attacks may occur in clusters and have long symptom-free remissions.

  • some patients are completely asymptomatic between episodes; however, many notice progressive deterioration of hearing and balance function with each successive attack.


  • audiogram (gray shaded area indicates normal range; left ear (X marks) is normal at all frequencies; right ear (circles) has decreased hearing on both air and bone for lower frequencies):

  • transtympanic electrocochleography (ECoG) can detect distortion of nerve-containing membranes of inner ear (i.e. may suggest hydrops).

  • electronystagmography (ENG) with movement and caloric stimulation - endolymphatic hydrops causes reduced vestibular response in affected ear.

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