Researchers: Roller coasters may cause ear injuries

May 6, 2010

The rapid acceleration on roller coasters may have the potential to injure riders' ears, according to research presented last week at the Triological Society's 113th Annual Meeting in Las Vegas.

Ear barotrauma can lead to temporary hearing loss, dizziness, ear pain and the sensation of having one's ears "pop" due to pressure. The condition is commonly associated with air travel or scuba diving.

The research focused on a 24-year-old patient who turned his head on a roller coaster as it reached 120 mph in four seconds. The move exposed his right ear to 0.6 pounds per square inch of pressure, causing his ear canal to swell and the ear drum to become inflamed.

"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," said senior study author Kathleen L. Yaremchuk, chair of the Department of Otolaryngology at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.