Doettl Making a Difference in Children’s Lives Through Dizziness Clinic

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Dr. Steven Doettl (left) assists a patient in the Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology’s Dizziness Clinic in Knoxville. (Photo by Shawn Poynter)

Steven M. Doettl, AuD, CCC-A has spent years working to help children with balance and dizziness issues.

Dr. Doettl, a clinical associate professor in the Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, founded the Dizziness Clinic on the Knoxville campus. Since inception, the Dizziness Clinic has become the only vestibular (inner ear balance system) center that can provide a full evaluation of the those structures and with a specific focus on children with balance and dizziness issues in East Tennessee.

Dr. Doettl started the clinic in 2010 after being asked  to help expand the department’s vestibular curriculum. “It was a team effort between myself, Department Chair Dr. Ashley Harkrider, and Dr. Patti Johnstone, our director of Clinical Education in Audiology,” Dr. Doettl said. “We started with a simple piece of equipment and built it over the next few years to develop a state-of-the-art clinic that was the first of its kind in East Tennessee.” Dr. Doettl was previously a part of a multi-disciplinary team that built the UT Medical Center Balance Center in Knoxville, which functioned as a vestibular testing and rehabilitation center primarily for adults and provided an off-campus clinical site for ASP students.

Dr. Steven Doettl

He decided to expand the services of the Dizziness Clinic to children based on expanding literature in the pediatric population and experiencing the extremely limited services in the area for children affected  by those issues. Until recently, it was thought  that children did not experience dizziness and balance problems as often as adults. Even if children had these issues, very little diagnostic testing was applicable to children. Today, the clinic is also the only one in the area that can provide a full evaluation of the vestibular system for patients of all ages.

New vestibular testing techniques have provided research that shows that children have dizziness and balance issues as often as adults, although the conditions  often present in different ways. Research has also begun to focus on specific pathologies. Current literature indicates that children with hearing loss are at a significantly increased risk for dizziness and balance problems.

“This year, we developed a specific program to evaluate, monitor, and manage children with hearing loss for vestibular dysfunction and balance problems,” Dr. Doettl said. “This program has been developed in concert with multiple pediatric otolaryngology groups, as well as East Tennessee Children’s Hospital Rehab, to provide streamlined identification, evaluation, and management for patients.”

Vestibular evaluation provided at the Dizziness Clinic provides a necessary first step to guide proper diagnosis and recommendations for vestibular rehabilitation techniques, such as gaze stabilization exercises, habituation exercises, and balance retraining, which have been proven successful in treating vestibular dysfunction in both pediatric and adult populations. Early identification of vestibular problems, followed by appropriate vestibular rehabilitation, significantly reduced the timeline of related balance problems, greatly reduces the risk of falls, and generally increases the quality of life as soon as possible after a problem arises.

Dr. Doettl’s vision for the clinic is to continue to provide exceptional service in East Tennessee, grow its pediatric services and continue to engage in translational research on vestibular dysfunction in adults and children, including those with hearing loss.

“Children with hearing loss have such a high chance of vestibular dysfunction that it is important to identify issues early in order to provide timely and proper intervention with the goal of minimizing the chances of motor developmental delays,” Dr. Doettl said.