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Roller Coaster Rides Could Cause Ear Damage

May 5, 2010

Roller coaster thrills and excitement could be accompanied by severe damage to our ears, and even can cause temporary hearing loss, warn doctors at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

Dr. Kathleen L. Yaremchuk, M.D., Chair, Department of Otolaryngology at Henry Ford Hospital, and her colleagues found that the popular rides, which have in recent years become more and more extreme with sudden sharp turns, ups and downs, and high speeds, can cause a common ear injury, known as barotrauma. The experts explain that the condition occurs when there is a quick change in pressure between the outside environment, the ear drum and the pressure in the middle ear space.

In most cases, this change in air and ear pressures can be relieved when riders swallow several times in a row, yawn, or chew gum. However, during the extreme acceleration of a roller coaster ride, it is almost impossible for a person to equalize ear pressure utilizing these methods. Ear barotrauma typically is associated with dizziness, a sensation of "popping" ears as well as ear pain, and in rare cases the condition can lead to temporary hearing loss.

The warning comes after Dr. Yaremchuk and her colleagues treated a 24-year-old man who still had pain in one of his ears 2 days after riding a roller coaster. During the ride the young man had turned his head to speak to his girlfriend, who was sitting next to him, therefore exposing his ear to the full impact of the acceleration - 120mph within 4 seconds. While not enough to reach and damage the ear drum, the strong pressure to the ear did cause barotrauma, although the patient recovered three days later.

Dr. Yaremchuk said that this particular situation is quite unusual, where the man turned his head at just the right time to feel the full force of pressure against his ear drum. The expert said that it would be very unlikely that this kind of thing happens multiple times in a row, but roller coaster fans should be aware of what they can do in order to prevent barotrauma from occurring. "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," Dr. Yaremchuk suggested.

Other types of injuries that are associated with roller coaster rides have been reported by medical professionals previously, such as bruising and spine injuries, including vertebral disk herniation or tear in the tissue surrounding the spinal cord. All these injuries are linked to the force of roller coaster acceleration.

The study details were presented on April 30 at the Triological Society's 113th annual meeting, part of the Combined Otolaryngology Spring Meetings in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Tags: Health