John McNaughton Epley (1930 - 2019) 4

John McNaughton Epley (1930-2019) was an American otolaryngologist.

Epley developed the ‘canalith theory’ of vestibular disease. He published ‘New dimensions of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo‘ in 1980 detailing his eponymous maneuver to treat the condition without the need for medication or surgery.

Over the following 20 years he published a number of papers outlining the canalith repositioning procedure, now recognised as the Epley maneuver.

  • Born on Feb. 8, 1930 in Klamath Falls, Oregon
  • 1957 – graduated from UO Medical School
  • 1958 – internship at Jackson Memorial Hospital, Coral Gables, Florida
  • 3 years as a Captain heading the ENT Department at Vandenberg Air Force Base
  • 1965 – completed surgical residency at Stanford Medical School
  • 1979 – original Particle Theory for Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)
  • 1996 – Oregon Board of Medical Examiners notified Epley that he was under investigation for alleged unprofessional conduct – later dismissed in 2001
  • 2009 – retired aged 79 after suffering a severe stroke
  • Died July 30, 2019

Medical Eponyms
Epley maneuver (1980)

A particle repositioning maneuver for the treatment of BPPV – with the aim of moving the canaliths out of the posterior semicircular, back into the utricle. It has been shown to be safe and effective at resolving BPPV in 50-85% of cases (20142013).

The original maneuver was first described by John Epley in 1980 also involved vibrations over the mastoid during the maneuver. Today the Modified Epley is performed without the vibrations.

See the Epley maneuver page for details on how to perform it and an original video produced by John Epley himself.

Key Medical Contributions

Epley published his original Particle Theory for Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo in 1979 outlining the theory of cupulolithiasis in the posterior semicircular canal as the pathophysiological mechanism of the condition. A theory that has since been further demonstrated and widely accepted.

Hypotympanotomy retractor (1979). A retractor designed to allow an inferior oriented approach to the middle ear such as in posterior ampullary nerve transection, the trans-cochlear approach to the internal auditory meatus or glomus tympanicum resection.

Major Publications


Epley faced over a decade of scepticism and ridicule from peers in his field who did not believe in his repositioning manoeuvre. This led to colleagues questioning his medical skills in general and in 1996 The Oregon Board of Medical Examiners notified Epley that he was under investigation for alleged unprofessional conduct. It was not until 2001 that these claims were finally dismissed.

Physicians learn to just do the routine, to do the accepted things — don’t go too far out. They’ve got so much to lose if they stick their neck out




Eponymous terms


Studied at Univerisity of Cambridge - BA MB BChir. British doctor working in emergency medicine in Perth, Australia. Special interests include primary care and emergency medicine.

BA MA (Oxon) MBChB (Edin) FACEM FFSEM. Emergency physician, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.  Passion for rugby; medical history; medical education; and asynchronous learning #FOAMed evangelist. Co-founder and CTO of Life in the Fast lane | Eponyms | Books | Twitter |

One comment

  1. I worked with Dr. Epley, as his IT Consultant, for a number of years. He was a very humble man. In my many conversations with him, he always gave credit to his Creator for his contributions to the medical field. I was very sad to see him retire. He really enjoyed helping people in getting relief from BPPV.

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