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Roller Coasters Can Cause Ear Damage

Posted May 03 2010 3:24pm
Just about everyone has heard of the dangers of hearing loss from music - concerts and headphones, but what about roller coasters?

That surprised me when I read this article from U.S. News & World Report . I love roller coasters myself, and it never occurred to me that they could be a source of ear damage. But according to the article, it's the force of acceleration on a roller coaster that does it, leading to "ear barotrauma." Ear barotrauma refers to the pain and discomfort you can feel when the pressure behind your eardrum is different from the pressure outside. To fix it, you need to pop your ears. I'm sure everyone has experienced that sensation before, on plane rides or long car trips where the elevation changes.

Unfortunately on roller coasters sometimes more damage can occur. The article relates the story of a 24-year-old who turned to the left at exactly the wrong time. His right ear took the full brunt of the acceleration of the coaster and led to swelling and inflammation 36 hours after the ride. Luckily he was feeling better after three days.

I've never heard a roller coaster operator caution the riders to stay facing forward before, but I have a feeling this may become a common warning on signs. Roller coasters just keep getting more and more extreme and as they do, problems nobody could anticipate will keep coming up. I don't think this is going to stop me from enjoying coasters, but it will make me think a bit more about my position during the ride.
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