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Roller coasters can cause ear injury, study says

May 1, 2010 |  6:00 am

Coaster Roller coasters keep getting faster, taller and wilder. But the thrills could be accompanied by more ear injuries, according to a study released Saturday. A common ear injury, called barotrauma, occurs when there is a quick change in pressure between the outside environment, the ear drum and the pressure in the middle ear space. A roller coast caused such an injury in a 24-year-old man, according to the new report.

Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit saw the patient 36 hours after he rode on a coaster. He had pain and fullness in his right ear. He told the doctors that he turned his head to speak to his girlfriend as the ride began to accelerate. That ear sustained the full impact of the forward force, which reached 120 miles per hour within four seconds. The injury healed on its own, although decongestants can help relieve symptoms.

The case is the first to show that roller coaster acceleration can be harmful, said Dr. Kathleen L. Yaremchuk, the lead investigator, who presented the case at the Combined Otolaryngology Spring Meetings in Las Vegas.

The modern, mammoth roller coasters have led to assorted injuries, the authors noted, including disk injuries, hematomas and fractures. It's not likely that ear injuries would occur often, Yaremchuk says. But, she added in a news release: "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."

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Flickr