(ANN ARBOR, Mich.) -- YouTube, the popular video-sharing website, offers us all sorts of important tips, tricks and tidbits. Now, a new study suggests that it may be a trustworthy source if your query happens to be "How to treat your vertigo."
Researchers at the University of Michigan studied how YouTube users searched for solutions to a condition known as benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). It is a condition that affects more than six million people in the United States every year and is responsible for up to 40 percent of doctor visits related to dizziness.
Authors searched the YouTube website and found more than 3,000 videos related to dizziness, accounting for three million hits. Thirty-three of those videos demonstrated "How to do the Epley Maneuver" -- a repositioning procedure used to treat dizziness caused by BPPV.
Sixty-four percent of videos accurately depicted the maneuver. The video with the most hits was produced by the American Academy of Neurology, a leading professional organization for neurologists.
The disabling sensations of spinning or vertigo associated with BPPV can be blamed on calcium crystals that develop in the inner ear, an area that contains the organs we rely on for our sense of balance and equilibrium. Sometimes these crystals can get stuck in the wrong position within these organs, leading to the dizziness, nausea, balance problems and hearing loss that vertigo sufferers associate with their condition.
The good news is that 90 percent of the time, BPPV can be cured within minutes using the Epley maneuver -- a technique available since the 1980s that is used to dislodge the calcium particles.
It is a technique that Dr. Kevin Kerber, a neuro-otologist at the University of Michigan and lead author of the study, says is often effective but which "hasn't been disseminated properly and is not being implemented." That, he says, is why the videos on YouTube captured his interest.
"YouTube seemed like such an amazing tool to disseminate information" he says, adding that videos contain the added bonus of viewer commentary that provides additional information about how videos might be helping, or hindering treatment.
"Patients have reported they are cured of their symptoms, which is very impressive," Kerber says. "To be able to go to the computer and do treatments, well, that would be awesome. No frustrating calls for appointments, no expensive referrals to a specialist -- it's kind of the perfect intervention. ..."
Moreover, Kerber says, the videos may obviate the need for the sedating medication Antivert in many cases. As he notes, "you don't want a sedated dizzy person walking around out there when they can be cured."
Still, doctors warn, the videos can only go so far -- and in many cases, they are no substitute for seeing a doctor in person.
"People looking for information on the Internet are not experts and do not have a way to know which are valid videos and which are not," says Dr. Helen S. Cohen, professor of otolaryngology at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas. "To treat any health condition properly, and in a cost-effective manner, the condition must be diagnosed correctly. ... [BPPV] can mask or be caused by other problems that affect the inner ear."
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio