Ann Widdecombe health: Politician on her viral labyrinthitis ear infection symptoms


One night the former Member of the European Parliament (MEP) was awoken to the room spinning. With no idea what was wrong with her, she tried to get up and out of bed, but ended up falling over. Worried and confused Ann called the doctor out in the middle of the night, something she said she has never done before in her lifetime. After a check up and examination by medical professionals, Ann was diagnosed with viral labyrinthitis.

Speaking to the Daily Express at the time Ann said: “I sat up and thought it would stop but it didn’t. Then I tried to get out of bed and fell over.

“I simply couldn’t stand and had completely lost all sense of balance. I assumed I was having a stroke and it was the only time I’ve ever called the doctor out in the middle of the night.”

Ann was right to assume that initially she was suffering a stroke. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of the first signs that someone is suffering from a stroke is if they are experiencing a lack of balance and trouble walking.

In actuality what Ann was suffering from was an inner ear infection that affects your balance. Viral labyrinthitis, also sometimes known as vestibular neuritis, can occur at any age and is usually caused by another illness.

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Respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis as well as middle ear infections and infectious organisms such as ones that cause Lyme disease are all possible causes of viral labyrinthitis.

In addition certain lifestyle choices can also increase your risk of developing the condition. These include:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking large quantities of alcohol
  • History of allergies
  • Are habitually fatigued
  • Are under extreme stress
  • Take some prescription medications
  • Take over-the-counter medications (especially aspirin).

When individuals have the condition, the most common symptoms include the following:

  • Dizziness or feeling that everything around you is spinning (vertigo)
  • Feeling unsteady and off balance – you might find it difficult to stay upright or walk in a Straight line
  • Feeling or being sick
  • Hearing loss
  • Ringing in your ears (tinnitus).

These symptoms can start suddenly and like in Ann’s case, they may be there when you wake up and cause instant confusion. These symptoms can ease over a few days.


However, an individual’s balance can take over two to six weeks to return.

When given her diagnosis Ann recalled: “The doctor said I’d be better in 10 days and that I should be able to drive in four weeks although the residual effects might last a bit longer.

“In fact it was more than two months before I dared drive again and five months until the labyrinthitis went away completely.”

In order to help speed up recovery the health body advises individuals to do a number of things.

Labyrinthitis is inflammation of the labyrinth – a maze of fluid-filled channels in the inner ear, whereas vestibular neuritis is inflammation of the vestibular nerve – the nerve in the inner ear that sends messages to the brain.

Treating both labyrinth and vestibular neuritis is usually done through antibiotics.

A GP may prescribe antihistamines or motion sickness tablets for up to three days. However, as the condition is usually caused by a viral infection such as a cold or flu, antibiotics may not seem to help.

If you’ve been diagnosed with labyrinths and symptoms haven’t improved after another week, again, speak to your GP.
In order to tackle problems with balance, the NHS recommends a series of exercises that can help restore balance. These are provided by physiotherapists and should only be done under their supervision.



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