The vestibular effects of repeated low-level blasts

Philip D. Littlefield*, Robin L. Pinto, Holly L. Burrows, Douglas S. Brungart

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations

Abstract

The objective of this study was to use a prospective cohort of United States Marine Corps (USMC) instructors to identify any acute or long-term vestibular dysfunction following repeated blast exposures during explosive breaching training. They were assessed in clinic and on location during training at the USMC Methods of Entry School, Quantico, VA. Subjects received comprehensive baseline vestibular assessments and these were repeated in order to identify longitudinal changes. They also received shorter assessments immediately following blast exposure in order to identify acute findings. The main outcome measures were the Neurobehavioral Symptom Inventory, vestibular Visual Analog Scale (VAS) of subjective vestibular function, videonystagmography (VNG), vestibular evoked myogenic potentials (VEMP), rotary chair (including the unilateral centrifugation test), computerized dynamic posturography, and computerized dynamic visual acuity. A total of 11 breachers and 4 engineers were followed for up to 17 months. No acute effects or longitudinal deteriorations were identified, but there were some interesting baseline group differences. Upbeat positional nystagmus was common, and correlated (p<0.005) with a history of mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). Several instructors had abnormally short low-frequency phase leads on rotary chair testing. This study evaluated breaching instructors over a longer test period than any other study, and the results suggest that this population appears to be safe from a vestibular standpoint at the current exposure levels. Upbeat positional nystagmus correlated with a history of mTBI in this population, and this has not been described elsewhere. The data trends also suggest that this nystagmus could be an acute blast effect. However, the reasons for the abnormally short phase leads seen in rotary chair testing are unclear at this time. Further investigation seems warranted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-81
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neurotrauma
Volume33
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2016
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • military injury
  • peripheral nerve injury
  • traumatic brain injury

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