Hyperventilation-induced nystagmus in a large series of vestibular patients

L Califano, M G Melillo, A Vassallo, S Mazzone
Acta Otorhinolaryngologica Italica 2011, 31 (1): 17-26
The Hyperventilation Test is widely used in the "bed-side examination" of vestibular patients. It can either activate a latent nystagmus in central or peripheral vestibular diseases or it can interact with a spontaneous nystagmus, by reducing it or increasing it. Aims of this study were to determine the incidence, patterns and temporal characteristics of Hyperventilation-induced nystagmus in patients suffering from vestibular diseases, as well as its contribution to the differential diagnosis between vestibular neuritis and neuroma of the 8(th) cranial nerve, and its behaviour in some central vestibular diseases. The present study includes 1202 patients featuring, at vestibular examination, at least one sign of vestibular system disorders or patients diagnosed with a "Migraine-related vertigo" or "Chronic subjective dizziness". The overall incidence of Hyperventilation-induced nystagmus was 21.9%. It was detected more frequently in retrocochlear vestibular diseases rather than in end-organ vestibular diseases: 5.3% in Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo, 37.1% in Menière's disease, 37.6% in compensated vestibular neuritis, 77.2% in acute vestibular neuritis and 91.7% in neuroma of the 8(th) cranial nerve. In acute vestibular neuritis, three HVIN patterns were observed: Paretic pattern: temporary enhancement of the spontaneous nystagmus; Excitatory pattern: temporary inhibition of the spontaneous nystagmus; Strong excitatory pattern: temporary inversion of the spontaneous nystagmus. Excitatory patterns proved to be time-dependent in that they disappeared and were replaced by the paretic pattern over a period of maximum 18 days since the beginning of the disorder. In acoustic neuroma, Hyperventilation-induced nystagmus was frequently observed (91.7%), either in the form of an excitatory pattern (fast phases towards the affected site) or in the form of a paretic pattern (fast phases towards the healthy side). The direction of the nystagmus is only partially related to tumour size, whereas other mechanisms, such as demyelination or a break in nerve fibres, might have an important role in triggering the situation. Hyperventilation-induced nystagmus has frequently been detected in cases of demyelinating diseases and in cerebellar diseases: in multiple sclerosis, hyperventilation inhibits a central type of spontaneous nystagmus or evokes nystagmus in 75% of patients; in cerebellar diseases, hyperventilation evokes or enhances a central spontaneous nystagmus in 72.7% of patients. In conclusion the Hyperventilation Test can provide patterns of oculomotor responses that indicate a diagnostic investigation through cerebral magnetic resonance imaging enhanced by gadolinium, upon suspicion of neuroma of the 8(th) cranial nerve or of a central disease. In our opinion, however, Hyperventilation-induced nystagmus always needs to be viewed within the more general context of a complete examination of the vestibular and acoustic system.


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