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Inferior vestibular neuritis in a fighter pilot: A case report

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June 12, 2013
by Xie Su Jiang, MD, PhD; Jia Hong Bo, PhD; Xu Po, MS; and Zheng Ying Juan, BSC


Spatial disorientation in airplane pilots is a leading factor in many fatal flying accidents. Spatial orientation is the product of integrative inputs from the proprioceptive, vestibular, and visual systems. One condition that can lead to sudden pilot incapacitation in flight is vestibular neuritis. Vestibular neuritis is commonly diagnosed by a finding of unilateral vestibular failure, such as a loss of caloric response. However, because caloric response testing reflects the function of only the superior part of the vestibular nerve, it cannot detect cases of neuritis in only the inferior part of the nerve. We describe the case of a Chinese naval command fighter pilot who exhibited symptoms suggestive of vestibular neuritis but whose caloric response test results were normal. Further testing showed a unilateral loss of vestibular evoked myogenic potentials (VEMPs). We believe that this pilot had pure inferior nerve vestibular neuritis. VEMP testing plays a major role in the diagnosis of inferior nerve vestibular neuritis in pilots. We also discuss this issue in terms of aeromedical concerns.

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