To date, doctors have to perform time-consuming tests to determine the type of vertigo to prescribe the appropriate treatment. Earlier this year, though, Dr. Miriam S. Welgampola, MD, Ph.D. of the University of Sydney may have found a way to make it easier to identify the type of vertigo by merely making a patient wear a pair of goggles.
Types of Vertigo
Dizziness happens due to several causes. Colorado ENT doctors categorize vertigo into three types: benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), vestibular neuronitis, or Meniere’s disease.
BPPV is the most common, where the symptoms are amplified when you move your head from side to side. Symptoms include a feeling of spinning and nausea, which can be mild to intense. While BPPV seems serious, it’s generally harmless unless you decide to walk unassisted and you slip and fall thanks to your loss of balance.
Doctors often do not know what causes BPPV (known as idiopathic BPPV), but it likely stems from problems in your inner ear. Inside your ear are organs that give you a sense of balance; these organs look like a spiral canal with fluid inside them. BPPV happens when these sensors become out of whack, which means your brain cannot reconcile the input from your ears and what your other senses are telling it. This mechanism is also why you sometimes encounter motion sickness.
Another type of vertigo is vestibular neuronitis, which happens when the vestibular nerve, the nerve that connects your inner ear balance mechanism to your brain, is inflamed or irritated. As a result, you feel dizzy because, again, there is a conflict between what reaches your mind and what the inner ear is telling it. The exact cause of vestibular neuronitis has not been discovered, but it’s possibly viral in nature.
Finally, Meniere’s disease is chronic vertigo, which, apart from the regular symptoms, also include tinnitus and progressive hearing loss. Like vestibular neuronitis, the cause for Meniere’s disease is not known, but is thought to be due to a malfunction in the inner ear’s fluid, called the endolymph. A patient with Meniere’s can lose their hearing entirely as the disorder progresses; in some cases, even a degree of their balance can be affected.
The Eyes Are the Windows to Vertigo
The study, published on May 15, 2019, details how doctors were able to identify the specific type of vertigo using involuntary eye movements during a vertigo attack (called nystagmus). For the experiment, the researchers recorded the eye movements of 117 vertigo sufferers utilizing a pair of video-oculography goggles. The results were promising (though far from inconclusive), as the tests with the glasses showed a level of accuracy that, if refined, can be more accurate than standard tests to diagnose vertigo. The goggles identified BPPV at 100%, vestibular neuronitis at 93%, and Meniere’s at 95% accuracy.
Welgampola concluded that although more studies are needed in bigger groups, giving people a pair of goggles that they can easily use at home to record eye movement can help with vertigo diagnosis.
More research is needed on this front, but this finding can complement the regular vertigo tests done by ENT. A little more certainty in the diagnosis doesn’t hurt, after all.