Peter Davison meets David Tennant in Doctor Who special
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The show, which challenged a group of celebrity faces to completely give up sugar, was meant to have a positive impact on the group’s health, as instead of snacking on sugary sweet treats, they would be put to work on a real-life farm. But for Davison, life on the farm had the complete opposite effect as he was left bed bound and suffering from a condition known as labyrinthitis – an inner ear infection that affects an individual’s balance and hearing.
“I got very dizzy,” Pete explained when looking back on his health ordeal at the time.
Telling producers of the show that he felt unwell, the actor added “if I felt like this normally I’d be calling the doctor”, before being rushed to hospital on only day two of the experiment.
“It’s this condition called labyrinthitis. Something happens in your inner ear, and you just can’t stand up.
“It’s like being incredibly drunk. The room spins and it’s really unpleasant.”
The NHS explains that the condition is caused by an inflammation of the inner ear, specifically the “maze of fluid-filled channels in the inner ear” that are fundamental for both hearing and balance.
Although sometimes called vestibular neuritis, the two terms actually describe conditions that affect different parts of the ear.
Vestibular neuritis occurs when the vestibular nerve becomes inflamed, causing disruption to the messages that are sent to the brain.
Although the symptoms of vestibular neuritis and labyrinthitis are very similar, if your hearing is affected, then labyrinthitis is the cause. This is because inflammation of the labyrinth affects hearing, while inflammation of the vestibular nerve does not.
What are the causes of labyrinthitis?
Although it might sound strange, the fluid in the channels of the labyrinth moves when an individual tilts their head, alerting the brain how far, fast and what direction the head is moving in. This then allows the body to balance properly.
The labyrinth also contains a small, spiral-shaped cavity known as the cochlea. This is responsible for sending sound waves to the language processing areas of the brain. Inflammation within this area can disrupt its ability to function properly, leading to hearing loss.
On the other hand, the vestibular system works in a similar way to a stereo, with the left and right ears sending separate signals to the brain. If one ear becomes infected, these signals become out of sync, which confuses the brain and triggers symptoms such as dizziness and loss of balance.
Over half the cases of labyrinthitis are what is known as viral labyrinthitis, which is thought to be caused by a viral infection either to the chest, nose, mouth or airways. This is typically caused by the common cold or flu.
However, other cases can be caused by bacterial infection. Bacterial labyrinthitis is likely to be more serious in comparison, and can infect an individual if the thin layers of tissue that separate your middle ear from your inner ear are broken. This can happen due to a middle ear infection or an infection of the brain lining (meningitis). Bacteria can also get into the inner ear if you have had a head injury.
What are the symptoms of labyrinthitis?
Most commonly, symptoms of labyrinthitis 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 can start suddenly and seemingly without any cause, but can last for several days afterwards.
After a few days symptoms should ease, although the medical body warns that it could take anywhere from two to six weeks for individuals to get their balance back.
In order to help ease symptoms faster, the NHS provides some key tips. Do:
- Lie still in a dark room if you feel very dizzy
- Drink plenty of water if you’re being sick – it’s best to drink little and often
- Try to avoid noise and bright lights
- Get enough sleep – tiredness can make symptoms worse
- Start to go for walks outside as soon as possible – it may help to have someone with you to steady you until you become confident
- When you’re out and about, keep your eyes focused on a fixed object, rather than looking around all the time.
- Do not drive, cycle or use tools or machinery if you feel dizzy
- Do not drink alcohol – it can make symptoms worse.
Once diagnosed, individuals are typically advised by GPs to take antihistamines or motion-sickness tablets for up to three days. Depending on what has caused the labyrinthitis (viral or bacterial) individuals may also be prescribed different types of medication.
If you or someone you know is still struggling with balance problems, the NHS recommends trying vestibular rehabilitation – a series of exercises that can help restore balance. However, these should only be carried out under the supervision of a physiotherapist.
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