By Natasha Egan
A study involving a home-based exercise treatment taking just 15-minutes a day aims to help people who experience vertigo due to damage to their balance organs.
The training device, which was designed in collaboration with scientists from Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) and John Hopkins University, projects a green dot onto a wall for the patient to follow while they move their head.
Co-inventor of the projection device Dr Americo Migliaccio from NeuRA said the treatment aims to help stabilise the person’s vision by recovering use of a reflexive eye movement generated by balance organs in the inner ear.
“Without this reflex, when your head moves quickly, your whole world appears to move, which can produce very unpleasant dizzy sensations,” Dr Migliaccio said.
By regularly practising to follow the dot at the same time as moving the head it is hoped patients will get the reflex back.
“As long as there is some function in at least one balance organ, the reflex will adapt and normalize under the right training,” Dr Migliaccio said.
As they improve, patients can increase the difficulty by adjusting the device to ensure they are always working just above their comfort zone.
“We think that with just 15 minutes of practice a day, people with balance problems due to poor vision stabilisation will begin to recover.”
Damage to the balance organs can be from a range of things, Dr Migliaccio said.
Causes include reduced inner-ear blood flow due to head trauma or ageing, canal plug surgery because of superior canal dehiscence syndrome, Meniere’s disease, gentamicin toxicity, vestibular neuritis, labyrinthitis and vestibular nerve section due to removal of a vestibular schwannowa tumor.
Laboratory testing of the rehabilitation device has shown a 15 to 30 per cent increase in response in 22 people without damaged balance organs.
“We have seen similar results in the 10 patients we have tested so far, but more patient testing is needed,” Dr Migliaccio said.
Dr Michael Schubert from from Johns Hopkins University is the other inventor of the rehabilitation device.
The pair has secured funding through the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia to begin home-based trials, which will start from early 2014.
Participants will need to do the exercise 15-minutes once a day everyday for a year.
The study will involve 80 patients with well-diagnosed and isolated injuries to their balance organs.
Half of the participants will have injury to one organ only and the other half will have injury to both organs.
Once a month each patient’s balance function will be assessed and their device use recorded.
The trial is expected to be completed towards the end of 2015.