Special Goggles Determine if you Have the Most Common Form of Dizziness

New York, NY (May 2005) -- Physicians and therapists at The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary know that the most common form of dizziness, called BPPV, is caused by tiny calcium carbonate crystals that lodge in the semi-circular canals of the ear. BPPV causes vertigo in those under 50, not just the elderly. The exact location of the disorienting crystals can be detected if patients wear special goggles that record rapid eye movements. 

A physician and physical therapist determine the location and can correct the problem through special turning movements of the head.

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Tiny “Ear Rocks” Cause Vertigo in Those Under 50, Not Just the Elderly

We generally think of dizziness as affecting the elderly, but the most common form of dizziness, called BPPV, affects a number of people younger than 50 years of age who have bumped or fallen on their head, or have suffered a bad infection or side effects from medication. According to the National Institutes of Health, 40 percent of Americans will experience in their lifetime dizziness that is serious enough to go to a doctor. 

“You do not have to live with dizziness, especially if it is caused by BPPV,” said Ronald Hoffman, MD, medical director of The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary’s Center for Hearing and Balance. 

BPPV, or Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo, is caused by tiny “ear rocks” that break loose in the inner ear and lodge themselves in one of the ear’s balancing organs, called the semicircular canals. People with BPPV might experience dizziness as they roll over when getting out of bed in the morning, or when they tilt their head back in the shower. The dizziness can trigger a fall or other accidents. 

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Goggles Determine Cause of BPPV

To determine if a patient has BPPV, The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary uses special goggles that are hooked up to a computer and monitor. The patient is asked to lie down with the goggles on, and to move his or her head back and forth. The monitor shows an enlarged image of the patient’s eye so that physicians and therapists can detect if the patient is experiencing rapid eye movements, a sign of BPPV. “The direction and duration of the rapid eye movement tells us in which semicircular canal the calcium carbonate crystals, or rocks, are located,” said Dr. Hoffman. 

“Once we know where the crystals are located, we treat the patient through a series of movements, gently turning the head.” said Linda Vetere, director of physical therapy for the Center. “The specific series of movements we use to reposition the crystal particles depend on which canal the crystal is in. We generally are able to remove them in one or two sessions.”

While there are several types of treatment for BPPV, the most common is the Epley Method, in which the patient lies down for the procedure described above. 

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Not All Dizziness Caused by BPPV

Not all dizziness is caused by BPPV, so it is necessary for the physician to take a careful patient history to determine if the dizziness has another cause. Dizziness may, for example, indicate another more serious medical cause, such as a heart problem or potential stroke. 

The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary has one of the most sophisticated centers for hearing and balance in the tri-state region, equipped with a comprehensive array of diagnostic and treatment services. Patients must be referred by a physician to the program. 

Advanced diagnostic technology at The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary to determine the cause of dizziness, vertigo, balance problems and hearing problems includes: audiometric evaluations; computerized electronystagmography and video nystagmography (the sophisticated goggles); sinusoidal harmonic acceleration rotational chair testing, computerized dynamic platform posturography, electrocochleography; and brain stem response audiometry. 

The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, the oldest specialty hospital in the Western Hemisphere, is the primary teaching hospital for the New York Medical College. It has approximately 142,000 outpatient visits annually and over 20,000 surgical procedures per year. It has one of the nation’s most extensive eye, ear, nose and throat clinics.

Read more about the Hearing & Balance Center.

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If you are a reporter seeking an interview with a doctor at The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, please contact Jean Thomas, at (212) 979-4274 or Axel F. Bang at (914) 234-5433.

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