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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 October, 2004, 23:22 GMT 00:22 UK
Flight simulators 'treat vertigo'
Motion and vision exercise
Patients were put through a series of vision and motion exercises
Flight simulators used to train pilots and astronauts can provide relief from chronic dizziness, a study shows.

Researchers from Hammersmith Hospitals NHS Trust and Imperial College London treated 40 patients with a history of balance problems.

They found twice weekly visual stimulation sessions for two months helped reduce the frequency and intensity of dizziness by up to a half.

A third of people experience dizziness or vertigo at some during their lives.

For many it clears up quickly but some can experience episodes of dizziness for years.

Vertigo, dizziness and feelings of nausea are related to the inner ear, known as the vestibular system.

Confused

The inner ear is a complex arrangement of fluid-filled chambers that acts like a mercury tilt-switch, relaying information about balance to the brain.

When disrupted by a disease such as flu or a head injury the signals become confused.

The team put all the patients through a the standard treatment of physiotherapy with half also completing the stimulator therapy sessions.

Vision exercise
A third of people experience bouts of dizziness

The sessions involved using a rotating disk, spinning chair and video-based exercises, all of which are used to train pilots and astronauts.

The treatment is known to strengthen the visual input to the brain, improving balance and reducing dizziness - essential to reduce motion sickness for people who fly.

As well as reducing the number and intensity of the dizzy spells, the team found balance was improved and levels of anxiety and depression were cut by a third.

Report author Professor Adolfo Bronstein, head of the department of neurology at Charing Cross Hospital in London, said he was excited by the results.

"Input from your muscles and joints, your inner ear and your eyes make up a triad of sensory information your body needs to stay balanced.

"In patients with inner ear damage, we thought that by strengthening the other inputs this would lead to a reduction in dizziness."

Chronic dizziness

He also said he was pleased the exercise combated depression and anxiety, which can be a common feature in people who suffer balance problems.

And he added: "These exercises are simple to set up so we are confident that they will soon become part of the standard treatment programme for chronic dizziness."

Lois Wolffe, of the Meniere's Society, a charity for people with the disease, which damages balance and hearing, said research into balance was the "forgotten bit of medicine".

"There is not enough research and no organisation there for people with balance problems.

"This research is much welcome and sounds like it might be useful."

However, Ms Wolffe said it may not help people with Meniere's disease when they suffer the violent attacks of vertigo that they are prone to.

Instead, she said it was likely to be more useful in between attacks to combat residual imbalance.


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