Purpose: Patients with acute peripheral unilateral hypofunction (UVH) complain of vertigo and dizziness and show posture imbalance and gaze instability. Vestibular rehabilitation therapy (VR) enhances the functional recovery and it has been shown that gaze stabilization exercises improved the dynamic visual acuity (DVA). Whether the effects of VR depend or not on the moment when it is applied remains however unknown, and investigation on how the recovery mechanisms could depend or not on the timing of VR has not yet been tested.
Methods: Our study investigated the recovery of DVA in 28 UVH patients whose unilateral deficit was attested by clinical history and video head impulse test (vHIT). Patients were tested under passive conditions before (pre-tests) and after (post-tests) being subjected to an active DVA rehabilitation protocol. The DVA protocol consisted in active gaze stabilization exercises with two training sessions per week, each lasting 30 min, during four weeks. Patients were sub-divided into three groups depending on the time delay between onset of acute UVH and beginning of VR. The early DVA group (N = 10) was composed of patients receiving the DVA protocol during the first 2 weeks after onset (mean = 8.9 days), the late group 1 (N = 9) between the 3rd and the 4th week (mean = 27.5 days after) and the late group 2 (N = 9) after the 1st month (mean: 82.5 days). We evaluated the DVA score, the angular aVOR gain, the directional preponderance and the percentage of compensatory saccades during the HIT, and the subjective perception of dizziness with the Dizziness Handicap Inventory (DHI). The pre- and post-VR tests were performed with passive head rotations done by the physiotherapist in the plane of the horizontal and vertical canals.
Results: The results showed that patients submitted to an early DVA rehab improved significantly their DVA score by increasing their passive aVOR gain and decreasing the percentage of compensatory saccades, while the late 1 and late 2 DVA groups 1 and 2 showed less DVA improvement and an inverse pattern, with no change in the aVOR gain and an increase in the percentage of compensatory saccades. All groups of patients exhibited significant reductions of the DHI score, with higher improvement in subjective perception of dizziness handicap in the patients receiving the DVA rehab protocol in the first month.
Conclusion: Our data provide the first demonstration in UVH patients that earlier is better to improve DVA and passive aVOR gain. Gaze stabilization exercises would benefit from the plastic events occurring in brain structures during a sensitive period or opportunity time window to elaborate optimal functional reorganizations. This result is potentially very important for the VR programs to restore the aVOR gain instead of recruiting compensatory saccades assisting gaze stability.
Keywords: Acute unilateral peripheral vestibulopathy; Compensatory saccades; DHI; Directional preponderance; Dynamic visual acuity; Early rehab; Late rehab; aVOR gain.