Breaking News
September 24, 2018 - King’s commemorates opening of new NMR facility with one-day symposium
September 24, 2018 - Eisai receives approval for partial label change of DC Bead device for transcatheter arterial embolization
September 24, 2018 - High-resolution genomic map gives scientists unprecedented view of brain development
September 24, 2018 - Alexion announces positive results from Phase 3 PREVENT study of Soliris in patients with NMOSD
September 24, 2018 - First evaluation of benefits, harms of Alzheimer’s screening for family members of older adults
September 24, 2018 - Children of mothers using cannabis may start using it at an earlier age, finds study
September 24, 2018 - Most patients who underwent transcatheter valve replacement experience prosthesis-patient mismatch
September 24, 2018 - New study provides basis for Air Canada to change its facial hair policy for aircrew
September 24, 2018 - Infant walkers lead to thousands of emergency visits for babies
September 24, 2018 - Genes predicting person’s height may provide clues about causes of varicose veins
September 24, 2018 - EPA Plan Will Maintain Carbon Emissions From Power Plants
September 24, 2018 - Characterizing pig hippocampus could improve translational neuroscience
September 24, 2018 - Element3 Health reports social and mental engagement play key role in overall health
September 24, 2018 - Paralympic medalists support Fight for Sight’s unique virtual event
September 24, 2018 - ADCETRIS drug receives approval in Japan as frontline treatment option for Hodgkin lymphoma
September 24, 2018 - Public awareness of urological conditions found to be alarmingly low across Europe
September 24, 2018 - Fitter Folks Suffer Milder Strokes: Study
September 24, 2018 - Novel botulinum toxin compound relieves chronic pain
September 24, 2018 - CHMP recommends approval of Gilenya for treatment of multiple sclerosis in children, adolescents
September 24, 2018 - National Friendly’s private medical insurance is a hit with women living in the South East
September 24, 2018 - Academics receive prestigious awards for achievements in blood pressure research
September 24, 2018 - Obese pregnant women can restrict weight gain safely with proper nutrition guidance
September 24, 2018 - CHMP adopts positive opinion of Takeda’s ALUNBRIG for treatment of ALK+ non-small cell lung cancer
September 24, 2018 - China NMPA approves LENVIMA for treatment of unresectable hepatocellular carcinoma
September 24, 2018 - A new approach for finding Alzheimer’s treatments
September 24, 2018 - USC research uncovers previously unknown genetic risk factor for dementia
September 24, 2018 - Study examining mental health among students finds significant disparities in treatment across race
September 24, 2018 - Breakthrough discovery paves way for future test to identify drowsy drivers
September 24, 2018 - Transcatheter mitral-valve repair in patients with heart failure
September 24, 2018 - Study opens new avenues for treatment of Laing distal myopathy
September 24, 2018 - Stroke Facts | cdc.gov
September 24, 2018 - Sarcolipin tricks muscle cells into using more energy, burning fat
September 24, 2018 - Enrollment in opioid controlled substance agreement reduces primary care visits
September 24, 2018 - UTA researchers patent new smart seat cushion technology that helps prevent painful ulcers
September 24, 2018 - Second HPV-Related Primary Cancers Common in Survivors
September 24, 2018 - How a virus destabilizes the genome
September 24, 2018 - Old letters provide insight into Spanish flu pandemic horror
September 23, 2018 - Smart textile-based soft robotic exosuit helps wearers save energy and traverse difficult terrain
September 23, 2018 - New research hub to drive radical change in development and manufacturing of vaccines
September 23, 2018 - AHA: For Hispanics, Neighborhood May Be Key Factor in Heart Disease Risk
September 23, 2018 - Excessive airway nerves tied to more severe asthma symptoms, study finds
September 23, 2018 - Study highlights need to remain vigilant in maintaining key infection control processes
September 23, 2018 - Novel therapeutic strategy for blood vessel related disorders, such as cancer and retinopathy
September 23, 2018 - New naturally occurring antibiotic found effective against Mycobacterium tuberculosis
September 23, 2018 - First-in-human phase 0 study shows clinically-relevant activity of new drug in glioblastoma
September 23, 2018 - Removing tobacco product display from shops reduced number of children buying cigarettes
September 23, 2018 - Random fraction of specialized immune cells leads the charge in battling invaders
September 23, 2018 - Few minutes of sprinting exercise may be as effective as longer exercise sessions
September 23, 2018 - Researchers use neutrons to make first direct observations of water in lipid bilayers
September 23, 2018 - Researchers demonstrate pre-clinical success for universal flu vaccine in new paper
September 23, 2018 - Study reveals surprising gaps in some HIV medical providers’ knowledge of ACA
September 23, 2018 - Oxehealth secures European medical device accreditation for vital signs measurement software
September 23, 2018 - HTN Tx Intensification Common Upon Discharge in U.S. Vets
September 23, 2018 - Fibre can strengthen the intestinal barrier
September 23, 2018 - New platform examines infectious pathogens that may spread from animals to humans
September 23, 2018 - Demographers create detailed color map of population aging in Europe
September 23, 2018 - New type of fatty acid can slow down overreactive immune system
September 23, 2018 - Innovative procedure could provide breakthrough in treating early-stage lung cancer
September 23, 2018 - Research finds drop in number of measles cases in the EU/EEA since March 2018
September 23, 2018 - Researchers acquire new insights into DNA polymerases
September 23, 2018 - Alzheimer’s diagnosis might become simpler with new brain imaging method
September 23, 2018 - Reports Warn of Growing Opioid Crisis Among Seniors
September 23, 2018 - Researchers unravel why people with HIV suffer from more neurologic diseases
September 23, 2018 - Human brain structured to make best possible decision with limited resources
September 23, 2018 - KHN’s ‘What the Health?’ Health on the hill
September 23, 2018 - Bad air and inadequate data prove an unhealthy mix
September 23, 2018 - Regular bedtime and wake time important for heart, metabolic health even among adults
September 23, 2018 - HIV and a tale of a few cities
September 23, 2018 - NIH launches clinical trial to test infusions of combination antibodies in people with HIV
September 23, 2018 - Researchers develop new system to detect consumption of synthetic cannabinoids
September 23, 2018 - Vax-Hub to influenze radical change in development and manufacturing of vaccines
September 23, 2018 - People who have slept lesser than seven hours have higher risks of car crashes
September 23, 2018 - an ancient art may work best to prevent falls in old age
September 23, 2018 - Consumption of foods with lower nutritional quality related to increased cancer risk
September 23, 2018 - Patient Health Information Often Shared Electronically
September 23, 2018 - Can machine learning bring more humanity to health care?
September 23, 2018 - Body organs undergo structural changes in response to diet
September 23, 2018 - Genetic polymorphisms linked with muscle injury and stiffness
September 23, 2018 - As states try to rein in drug spending, feds slap down one bold Medicaid move
September 22, 2018 - Why Eczema Is Tougher to Treat for Black Patients
Why Ryanair passengers were bleeding from the ears

Why Ryanair passengers were bleeding from the ears

image_pdfDownload PDFimage_print
Credit: pio3/Shutterstock.com

A Ryanair flight from Dublin to Croatia had to make an emergency landing in Frankfurt recently after the cabin lost pressure. Following the ordeal, 33 passengers were treated in hospital, with some bleeding from their ears.

So why did the sudden descent cause ears to bleed?

Aircraft usually fly at an altitude above 30,000ft, climbing or descending to get there at a rate of about 2,000ft per minute. At 30,000ft the outside air pressure is about a third of that at sea level, causing gases to expand.

For comfort and safety, aircraft cabins are “pressurised” to an altitude of somewhere between 5,000-8,000ft, which is lower than pressure at sea level. This is why if you take a bag of crisps on the flight, it looks like it is about to burst, or when you get to your destination your shampoo has leaked into your bag. This pressurisation also helps to keep oxygen at a level that is safe for humans.

Normally, as the plane climbs, the air in the inner ear (see the diagram below) is at a greater pressure than the cabin because it is still the same pressure as when the aircraft left the ground, so the eardrum bulges out. During the climb, yawning, talking, drinking or swallowing causes the pressure in the ear to eventually equal that of the cabin pressure at cruise level overall, both end up being less than that at sea level).

When the plane descends, the air pressure in the cabin begins to increase towards that at sea level, while the inner ear remains at the lower cruise-level pressure, and so the eardrum gets forced inwards, causing muffled hearing – which you may have experienced when flying.

During normal ascent and descent, if you suck on a hardboiled sweet, take a drink or yawn, it can help open the Eustachian tube – which runs from your middle ear to the back of the nose – to allow the pressure in the inner ear to equalise with that outside the ear. Doing these things causes the opening in the back of the nose to stretch, allowing the air pressures to equalise.

Barotrauma

The Ryanair incident resulted from a loss of cabin pressure. This is where the mechanically maintained cabin air (held at the pressure representing 5,000-8,000ft) escapes to outside the aircraft where the pressure is much lower. This means that the air within the ear, which was also at a higher pressure (5,000-8,000ft), tries to escape. This is because the cabin has now dropped to the lower pressure of the outside of the aircraft.

At this high altitude, the pressure difference may result in “barotrauma”, rupturing the eardrum and small blood vessels in the ear, causing hearing problems and bleeding. At this point, the packet of crisps would also explode.

Credit: Svetlana Verbinskaya/Shutterstock.com

Images on social media also showed blood-filled oxygen masks, probably the result of the rupture of small vessels in the roof of the nose as the change in pressure occurred. This was also likely the result of expanding liquids and gases that have to escape somewhere.

The biggest danger to passengers when a loss of cabin pressure occurs is asphyxiation. As the aircraft climbs into the atmosphere, the amount of naturally available oxygen in the outside air reduces to a level that is insufficient for effective breathing.

As well as maintaining pressure, the aircraft also ensures there is enough oxygen in the cabin. At sea level, 21% of air is oxygen, which is ideal for humans to breath. At 30,000ft and above, there is only about a third of that amount of oxygen available.

Oxygen saturation in the blood of a healthy human is usually between 94-98%. During flight, this reduces to the low 90s and in some cases into the 80s. The reduction in oxygen saturation towards 90% could have even more significant effects on those with heart or breathing conditions. This is why the oxygen masks deploy when cabin pressure drops – it ensures that every passenger has enough oxygen to saturate the blood.

Deployment of oxygen masks happens at the same time as the pilots descend as rapidly as possible to get to an altitude (usually below 10,000ft) where passengers can breathe without the aid of oxygen masks. This is because there is only a limited supply of oxygen (about 15 minutes) that is generated by special oxygen generators in the overhead panel.

Other unpleasant side effects

Luckily, these sorts of events are very rare. Air travel is extremely safe, with 2017 marked as the safest year to date. However, flying is probably never going to be entirely pleasant, even when things go well.

Ear problems – such as muffled hearing and popping ears – are experienced by everyone. But they are particularly unpleasant for people with colds, as their sinuses are full of mucus, which can block the opening of the Eustachian tube.

Teeth can also become sore during or after flights as air in the fillings and around the nerves expands and contracts. Unlike ear pain, chewing gum or sweets won’t help.

And ears and teeth aren’t the only places affected by rising and falling air pressure. During normal flight, the gas of the bowel also expands and contracts. As the aircraft climbs this gas expands, then on descent it becomes compressed again, often needing somewhere to escape. This is where people have to make the trade-off between social discomfort and physical discomfort.

As a result of this well-known problem, a group of researchers have suggested embedding active charcoal in aircraft seats to act as an odour absorber. Things can get better, even if they can never be perfect.


Explore further:
Taking care of airplane ear

Provided by:
The Conversation

Tagged with:

About author

Related Articles