Cheryl Whalen's world turned upside down three years ago when she suddenly began falling down uncontrollably.
"I got real dizzy, 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, a vertigo patient, told Ivanhoe.
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. It sends 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, it causes dizziness," Sue Stanfield, PT Vestibular Rehab Specialist at Banner Thunderbird Medicine told Ivanhoe.
Now, a new treatment could help. Infrared goggles let therapists get a close-up view of Whalen's eyes. They're looking 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, a twitching of the eye that tell 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.
"So you are 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 explained.
Eighty percent of patients find success with the procedure. After several therapy sessions, Whalen became one of them. Now she's back on her feet, without all the dizziness.
Studies have shown that canalith repositioning therapy is safe and effective for treating patients with vertigo. For some patients, more than one session is needed to relieve symptoms. This therapy is generally covered by medical insurance.