Space-program technology used for balance problems

August 3, 2009 4:07:23 PM PDT
When you lose your sense of balance, finding the cause can be a challenge, because there are so many potential causes.

Ear infections, a drop in blood pressure, or even a medication can cause it.

Now, a local rehabilitation hospital has new technology to nail down the culprit.

Dizzy spells left Erin Banghart's head spinning, no one knew why.

"I was getting to the point where I didn't think anyone could help," says Erin.

The spinning finally stopped, thanks to new technology at Good Shepherd Rehabilitation in Allentown, Pa.

The Equitest was developed by NASA to check an astronaut's equilibrium.

The moveable platform and sensors measure how well the body's balance systems work together.

Sue Gordon, a physical therapist, says, "Now we can actually breakdown and check the sensory components of balance. We can check the reactive components, like what would happen if someone slipped or someone shoved you."

Therapists also use magnifying goggles to check Erin's eye movements.

Gordon says, "Certain eye movements will tell us whether there's a problem coming from the brain or from the ear."

Erin's jerking eye movements signal a common type of vertigo - in which tiny particles that normally float through the inner ear are trapped in an area that senses motion. It's easily treated by moving the head through positions to get the particles back where they belong.

"Pretty much then I was feeling a lot better," remembers Erin.

While Erin's problem is a common one, therapists at Good Shepherd say the new hi-tech test will also help spot other difficult to diagnose balance problems, such as those stemming from the neurological system.

Once they know what's causing the imbalance, then they can work on fixing it.

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