Scientists have developed a new vibrating device that is placed behind a patient's ear to diagnose dizziness and offers significant advantages over the current tests.
Researchers from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden developed the testing device using bone conduction sounds.
Hearing and balance have something in common. For patients with dizziness, this relationship is used to diagnose issues with balance, according to the study published in the journal Medical Devices: Evidence and Research.
Commonly, a 'VEMP' test (Vestibular Evoked Myogenic Potentials) needs to be performed.
A VEMP test uses loud sounds to evoke a muscle reflex contraction in the neck and eye muscles, triggered by the vestibular system -- the system responsible for our balance.
However, today's VEMP methods have major shortcomings and can cause hearing loss and discomfort for patients.
"We have developed a new type of vibrating device that is placed behind the ear of the patient during the test," said Bo Hakansson, a professor at Chalmers.
"The vibrating device is small and compact in size, and optimised to provide an adequate sound level for triggering the reflex at frequencies as low as 250 Hertz (Hz).
"Previously, no vibrating device has been available that was directly adapted for this type of test of the balance system," Hakansson said.
In bone conduction transmission, sound waves are transformed into vibrations through the skull, stimulating the cochlea within the ear.
Half of over-65s suffer from dizziness, but the causes can be difficult to diagnose for several reasons, researchers said.
In 50 per cent of those cases, dizziness is due to problems in the vestibular system, they said
"Thanks to this bone conduction technology, the sound levels which patients are exposed to can be minimised," said Karl-Johan Freden Jansson, a postdoctoral researcher at Chalmers University.
The new vibrating device provides a maximum sound level of 75 decibels.
The test can be performed at 40 decibels lower than today's method using air conducted sounds through headphones.
"This eliminates any risk that the test itself could cause hearing damage," said Jansson.
The benefits also include safer testing for children, and that patients with impaired hearing function due to chronic ear infections or congenital malformations in the ear canal and middle ear can be diagnosed for the origin of their dizziness, researchers said.
The vibrating device is compatible with standardised equipment for balance diagnostics in healthcare, making it easy to start using, they said.
The cost of the new technology is also estimated to be lower than the corresponding equipment used today, according to researchers.