A 61-year-old Park City man who's been dizzy for about a year called the Deseret News/IHC Healthcare Hotline Saturday to see how he could fix the problem and resume skiing.
One of the worst things people with a balance disorder can do is stop exercising, said Janene Burton and Don Worthington, the specialists who fielded calls from the public during the two-hour program."The inner ear system only heals in an environment of movement," said Burton, a physical therapist at Intermountain Health Care's Hearing and Balance Center. "Your balance system requires a challenge to get better."
As with many of the callers, Burton suggested the man make an appointment with his primary care physician and also consider an evaluation at the IHC center, 1500 S. Foothill Drive - the only diagnostic and treatment center for balance disorders in the Intermountain West.
In three years, the center has treated nearly 3,000 people. Worthington, an audiologist and director of the center, said between 80 and 90 percent of people with hearing and balance disorders can be treated successfully.
But the average patient with dizziness goes to five doctors before finding help, Burton said. The center offers diagnostic and functional evaluations, important because more expensive tests, like MRIs, don't show the inner ear.
Once the problem is diagnosed, the patient can be treated with medication, exercise therapy or by fixing displaced crystals in the ear. Dislodged calcium carbonate crystals, which rest on little hair cells in the ear, can float into another part of the balance system, causing short, intense bursts of dizziness, nausea and vomiting. Called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, it's the most treatable balance problem, Worthington said.
Callers Saturday ranged from an 89-year-old man to a 29-year-old man and came from Provo; Spanish Fork; Holladay; Pocatello, Idaho; Afton, Wyo.; and even Illinois, thanks to a daughter in Utah who called her out-of-state mother with the toll-free number.
Burton and Worthington told people not to give up. Many callers said they had suffered from vertigo for many years. Some were on medication, but Burton said medication only helps with the symptoms of balance problems - it doesn't address the cause.
There are tests available to diagnose problems, Worthington said. They include an inner-ear test in which warm and cool water are poured in the patient's ear, visual-motor tests and infrared cameras.
The inner-ear system in an important part of normal life, allowing balance and a stable gaze. Without an inner ear, humans wouldn't be able to throw back their heads to look at the sky without falling down. Baseball players wouldn't be able to run for a fly ball without looking at the ground. Anyone walking or running would experience their eyes bouncing up and down, making the world look like it does on a bad home video.
The Healthcare Hotline is a free public service of the Deseret News and Intermountain Health Care. On the second Saturday of each month, callers can reach specialists to ask questions on a different subject each session. For more information about IHC's Hearing and Balance Center, call 582-1502.