Healthy Living

High-tech goggles to help people with vertigo

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

People who live with vertigo describe it as being on an amusement park ride that you can't get off. It can be debilitating and very frustrating to treat. But now, there's an innovative approach to find the source of the problem.

Cheryl Whalen's world turned upside down three years ago when she suddenly began falling down uncontrollably.

"I got real dizzy, and I was blacking out. I couldn't see. I'd try to do things like bend down, pick up something and I'd fall right to the floor," Whalen said.

Whalen had BPPV, the most common type of vertigo. It develops when a small piece of bone-like calcium breaks free and floats within the tube of the inner ear, sending the brain confusing messages about your body's position.

"They can actually get into the fluid in the semicircular canal, and as your head moves the particle moves too, and it causes dizziness," said Sue Stanfield, a vestibular rehab specialist at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center.

Infrared goggles let therapists get a close-up view of the eyes. They look for small twitching motions that indicate vertigo and involvement with a tiny particle within the inner ear.

A series of head positioning can trigger nystagmus - twitching of the eye - that tells therapists where the particles are.

Once the nystagmus is found, the therapist performs a procedure called canalith repositioning to move the particle out of harm's way.

"You're actually kind of rolling that particle through the fluid in the semicircular canal and then it will settle into the membrane area where it's supposed to be," Stanfield said.

Studies have shown that canalith repositioning therapy is safe and effective for treating patients with vertigo. Eighty percent of patients find success with the procedure.

For some patients, more than one session is needed to relieve symptoms. The therapy is generally covered by medical insurance.

(Copyright ©2014 KABC-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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