Vertigo is a common balance disorder in Salem; about four out of every ten Oregonians will experience it at least once in their lives. Broadly described as a feeling of unsteadiness, the trademark sign of vertigo is the sensation that your environment is moving even when you are standing still. Vertigo is notoriously hard to diagnose, but researchers have hope that a special pair of goggles could help patients monitor and report episodes of vertigo from the comfort of their own homes.

Understanding Vertigo

Vertigo is a severe form of dizziness that causes problems with balance and coordination. Most patients report a spinning sensation, similar to what you’d experience when stepping off a merry-go-round after several circuits. Sometimes, vertigo is accompanied by additional symptoms; people often suffer from headaches, double vision, tinnitus, perspiration, nausea and vomiting.

Doctors in Salem often have trouble diagnosing vertigo and figuring out its cause. There are several different types of vertigo, each of which is caused by a different medical condition. An American Academy of Neurology study published online this past May offers the tantalizing possibility that a solution might be available soon to simplify and improve the accuracy of the process.

Using Goggles to Detect Vertigo

child wearing pilot goggles

Miriam S. Welgampola, MD, PhD, led a group of researchers to study people who had been diagnosed with one of three conditions commonly associated with vertigo. Dr. Welgampolo, a member of the American Academy of Neurology based out of the University of Sydney in Australia, and her team examined 117 patients in total. Of those, 43 had been diagnosed with Meniere’s disease, an inner ear disorder that causes hearing and balance problems. 67 suffered from vestibular migraines and another 7 had benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), a condition in which calcium crystals float loosely in the fluid of the inner ear, causing episodes of vertigo when there are sudden head movements. Dr. Welgampola explains, “Vertigo can be a disabling condition, so an accurate diagnosis is important to effectively treat and stop the vertigo as soon as possible. Observing a person’s eye movements during an episode can help make the diagnosis, but people don’t always have an episode when they are at the doctor’s office.”

These eye movements, which are repetitive and uncontrolled when vertigo is occurring – the eyes may move from side to side, up and down or around in circles – may be key in diagnosing vertigo. Each test subject was given a pair of goggles and taught how to use them whenever they experience an episode of vertigo.

Vertigo is diagnosed based on two factors: sensitivity (the percentage of identified positives that actually turn out to be positive) and specificity (the percentage of negatives that are correctly identified). Results showed that individuals with Meniere’s disease were more likely to experience rapid eye movements from side to side; the goggles diagnosed these with a sensitivity of 95 percent and specificity of 82 percent. Those with vestibular migraines had eye movements that were highly variable. The goggles diagnosed these with a 93 percent specificity but a low 24 percent sensitivity. BPPV patients were diagnosed with 100 percent sensitivity and 78 percent specificity.

It will take additional research before the video-oculography goggles are cleared for widespread use. For starters, the size of the test group was too small to extrapolate accurate data. Many of the patients weren’t feeling well enough to try the goggles while experiencing vertigo and others didn’t bother when their episodes were mild. Additionally, certain medications taken to treat vertigo could have skewed the results.

Nevertheless, with further testing, doctors are optimistic that these goggles will one day help patients record eye movements at home and, by transmitting data electronically to their ear, nose and throat physician, greatly improve diagnosis rates.

If you are experiencing vertigo, make an appointment with a Salem ENT doctor at your earliest convenience. Unexplained balance problems can sometimes be indicative of deeper underlying concerns, so it’s best to take a proactive approach.


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