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Roller Coaster Rides May Cause Ear Injury

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2010-04-30 11:32

Summer is upon us, a time when people flock to roller coaster rides. A new study suggests that the force of acceleration on a roller coaster can be linked to a common ear injury known as ear barotrauma.

Most people are likely more familiar with barotrauma as it relates to air travel and scuba diving, and with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the explosion of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Although the risk of experiencing barotrauma when riding a roller coaster is low, it is most likely to occur if passengers do not remain facing forward during the ride.

Kathleen L. Yaremchuk, MD, Chair, Department of Otolaryngology at Henry Ford Hospital, is the senior author of the study, which presents the first reported link between the rapid acceleration that takes place during a roller coaster ride and barotrauma. This ear injury occurs when there is a quick change in pressure between the external environment, the ear drum, and the pressure in the middle ear space.

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In most cases, this change in air and ear pressures can be remedied when people swallow several times, yawn, or chew gum. During the extreme acceleration of a roller coaster ride, however, it is nearly impossible for individuals to equalize ear pressure using these methods. Ear barotrauma typically causes dizziness, a sensation of wanting your ears to “pop,” and ear pain, and in extreme cases can cause temporary hearing loss.

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