Roller coasters may cause ear injury – ear barotrauma

The sharp turns, ups and downs, and high speeds of today’s roller coasters bring a lot of thrills, but if you’re not careful, the ride could also cause damage to your ears, say physicians at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

Their case study offers the first reported link between the force of acceleration in roller coasters and a common ear injury ? ear barotrauma ? that occurs when there is a relatively quick change in pressure between the external environment, the ear drum and the pressure in the middle ear space.

In its extreme, ear barotrauma can lead to temporary hearing loss, and most commonly causes dizziness, ear discomfort or pain, or a sensation of having the ears “pop.” Since barotrauma from a roller coaster happens suddenly, it is very difficult for the patient to equalize ear pressure by simply yawning or chewing gum.

“As roller coasters continue to push the envelope of speed, otolaryngologists need to be aware of this new cause of barotrauma to the ear,” says study senior author Kathleen L. Yaremchuk, M.D., Chair, Department of Otolaryngology at Henry Ford Hospital. “Based on our research, we recommend that passengers remain facing forward for the duration of the ride to not let the full impact of acceleration hit the ear.”

Previously, ear barotrauma has been linked to air travel and scuba diving, and most recently to the improvised explosive devices or IEDs being used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“This was an unusual situation, where the rider turned his head at just the right time to experience the full force of acceleration against his ear drum. It would be highly unlikely to do this multiple times in a row, but roller coaster riders should be aware of what they can do to prevent barotrauma from occurring,” says Dr. Yaremchuk.

Source: Henry Ford Health System, USA



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