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Otoliths, Ear Rocks, And The Epley Maneuver

Ear rocks, also known as "otoliths," are tiny pebbles of calcium carbonate in our inner ear that help keep us balanced.

They're located deep inside the inner ear in a small pouch called a utricle. When we move our heads, the tiny rocks move around and bump into nerve cells. These nerve cells send signals to our brain that tell it which way the head is oriented. It's one way we know up from down.

Dizziness or vertigo

But problems with ear rocks can be a cause of chronic dizziness or vertigo. Occasionally the little pebbles fall out of the utricle and can get into another part of the inner ear canals. When this happens, the brain senses that we're moving much more than we really are, resulting in sensations of unsteadiness or dizziness.

These mini "rock slides" can be caused by head injury or viruses and can even happen suddenly in some people, It is much more common in adults over fifty.

Is there any cure?

The problem sometimes resolves itself after several weeks, but there is also a clever treatment called the Epley Maneuver.

Epley Maneuver

The Epley Maneuver is simply a choreographed sequence of precise head movements, done with the aid of your doctor, that cause the misplaced rocks to roll back into the utricle. The maneuver is like those games where you try to roll a marble through a maze by tilting the board this way and that.

In one study the maneuver was shown to be successful in eighty-five percent of cases. Although the treatment may not always provide a long term cure, the Epley Maneuver is a non invasive and painless way to find relief from certain benign cases of vertigo and dizziness.

Read More: Inner Ear 'Rock Slides' Lead To Vertigo (NPR)

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