Particulate matter in the posterior semicircular canal

Laryngoscope. 1997 Jan;107(1):90-4. doi: 10.1097/00005537-199701000-00018.


The pathoetiology of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is controversial. Particulate matter within the posterior semicircular canal has been identified intraoperatively in patients with BPPV but has also been reported in non-BPPV patients at the time of translabyrinthine surgery (Parnes LS, McClure JA. Free-floating endolymphatic particles: a new operative finding during posterior semicircular canal occlusion. Laryngoscope 1992;102:988-92; Schuknecht HF, Ruby RRF. Cupulolithiasis. Adv Otorhinolaryngol 1973;20: 434-43; Kveton JF, Kashgarian M. Particulate matter within the membranous labyrinth: pathologic or normal? Am J Otol 1994;15:173-6). The nature of the particulate matter remains unknown. The purpose of this study was to prospectively examine the posterior semicircular canal of patients with and without a clinical history of BPPV for the presence of particulate matter. Seventy-three patients without BPPV symptoms undergoing labyrinthine surgery (vestibular schwannoma excision or labyrinthectomy) and 26 patients with BPPV undergoing the posterior semicircular canal occlusion procedure were compared. Additionally, 70 archived temporal bones without a history of BPPV were examined microscopically for the presence of particulate matter within the lumen of the membranous labyrinth. No particles were observed intraoperatively in any of the 73 patients without a history of BPPV. Particulate matter was observed in 8 of 26 patients at the time of the posterior semicircular canal occlusion procedure for intractable BPPV. Of the 70 temporal bones examined, 31 did not show significant postmortem changes and also did not demonstrate cupulolithiasis or canalithiasis. Particulate matter from within the membranous posterior semicircular canal was removed from one patient at the time of posterior semicircular canal occlusion for intractable BPPV symptoms and was examined by scanning electron microscopy. The particulate matter appeared morphologically consistent with degenerating otoconia. These data show a statistically significant association between the presence of particles within the posterior semicircular canal in this study and the symptom complex of BPPV.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Ear, Inner / surgery
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Otolithic Membrane / pathology
  • Photomicrography
  • Prospective Studies
  • Semicircular Canals / pathology*
  • Semicircular Canals / surgery
  • Temporal Bone / pathology
  • Vertigo / pathology*
  • Vertigo / surgery