Breaking News
April 19, 2019 - New insights into how vitamin D affects immune system
April 19, 2019 - Pfizer Announces Presentation of Data from a Phase 2 Study of its 20-Valent Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine Candidate Being Investigated for the Prevention of Invasive Disease and Pneumonia in Adults Aged 18 Years and Older
April 19, 2019 - Exercise can improve non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
April 19, 2019 - KZFPs play a key role in the regulation of human genome
April 19, 2019 - Extracts of ginkgo seeds show antibacterial activity on pathogens that cause skin infections
April 19, 2019 - Exercises and swimming goggles may reduce adverse effects on eye during long spaceflights
April 19, 2019 - Review suggests a reciprocal relationship between obesity and self-control
April 19, 2019 - Study identifies how enterococci bacteria cause antibiotic-resistant bloodstream infections
April 19, 2019 - Triple negative breast cancer develop resistance to chemotherapy by turning on molecular pathway
April 19, 2019 - Researchers identify key clues to brain and pancreas development
April 19, 2019 - Metformin May Cut Risk for Prematurity, Miscarriage in PCOS
April 19, 2019 - Obese mouse mothers trigger heart problems in offspring
April 19, 2019 - Research sheds light on how leukemia cells become resistant to drugs
April 19, 2019 - Health Tip: Stopping Nosebleeds – Drugs.com MedNews
April 19, 2019 - Pediatric endocrinologist gives iconic ‘Mona Lisa’ a second medical opinion
April 19, 2019 - Tapping patients’ wisdom for C-section pain management
April 18, 2019 - Why have autism rates ‘exploded’ in New Jersey?
April 18, 2019 - Microbiome science may help doctors to improve treatment for children with IBS
April 18, 2019 - New gene therapy cures babies with fatal ‘Bubble Boy’ disease
April 18, 2019 - No female mice? Scientists may still approve NIH grant
April 18, 2019 - What needs to be said about mental health in medicine
April 18, 2019 - Hickenlooper Expanded Medicaid, Created State-Run Marketplace To Insure Nearly All Coloradans
April 18, 2019 - Cancer cells grown in tumor-mimicking environment can help predict the effect of experimental drugs
April 18, 2019 - Albireo Announces FDA Clearance of IND to Commence Phase 2 Trial of Elobixibat for the Treatment of NAFLD/NASH
April 18, 2019 - Adhesive gel bonds to eye surface, could repair injuries without surgery
April 18, 2019 - The future of genomics: A podcast featuring Stanford geneticists
April 18, 2019 - As Syphilis Invades Rural America, A Fraying Health Safety Net Is Failing To Stop It
April 18, 2019 - APOE gene impacts sleep depending on gender and severity of Alzheimer’s
April 18, 2019 - PCORI’s newly approved awards focus on cancer pain and opioid use disorders
April 18, 2019 - New tool provides a standard way to measure effects of caring for survivors of TBI
April 18, 2019 - Smartphone use risks eye examination misdiagnosis
April 18, 2019 - How drug-resistant bugs grow in CF patients’ lungs
April 18, 2019 - Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic Elected to American Academy of Arts & Sciences
April 18, 2019 - Podcast: KHN’s ‘What The Health?’ You Have Questions, We Have Answers
April 18, 2019 - Diabetic drug shows potential to be repurposed as heart disease treatment for non-diabetic patients
April 18, 2019 - New estimation method assesses natural variations in sex ratio at birth
April 18, 2019 - UTA scientist receives $1.17 million grant for cancer research
April 18, 2019 - Coagulation factor VIIa prevents bleeds in hemophilia animal models
April 18, 2019 - Researchers identify risk factors for severe infection after knee replacement
April 18, 2019 - Mass drug administration can offer community-level protection against malaria
April 18, 2019 - FDA’s added sugar label could have substantial health and cost-saving benefits
April 18, 2019 - Researchers identify cause of inherited metabolic disorder
April 18, 2019 - Single strip of white paint not sufficient to protect people who ride bikes
April 18, 2019 - Partner status influences link between sexual problems and self-efficacy in breast cancer survivors
April 18, 2019 - Colorectal Neoplasia Risk Up for Hodgkin Lymphoma Survivors
April 18, 2019 - Rigid spine muscular dystrophy – Genetics Home Reference
April 18, 2019 - Simple bile acid blood test could tell risk of stillbirth
April 18, 2019 - Center for Experimental Therapeutics aims to enable all steps of drug development | News Center
April 18, 2019 - Falling for telephone scams could be an early sign of dementia
April 18, 2019 - Researchers annotate key neuronal proteins in lamprey genome
April 18, 2019 - Study uncovers new biomarker for personalized cancer treatments
April 18, 2019 - Scientists enter research collaboration to find a cure for cancer
April 18, 2019 - Study to compare benefits of tai chi and mindfulness meditation on MS symptoms
April 18, 2019 - Gestational diabetes during pregnancy may increase risk of type 1 diabetes in children
April 18, 2019 - Maternal age has no effect on IVF success, conclude researchers
April 18, 2019 - Is a New Remedy for Body Odor on the Horizon?
April 18, 2019 - Orthostatic hypotension – Genetics Home Reference
April 18, 2019 - Healing the heartbreak of stillbirth and newborn death
April 18, 2019 - New study calls healthiness of eggs into question
April 18, 2019 - Conference to highlight advances in human immune monitoring, bioinformatics | News Center
April 18, 2019 - Bacteria use viruses for self-recognition, study reveals
April 18, 2019 - New adhesive patch could help reduce post-heart attack muscle damage
April 18, 2019 - Researchers analyze the effects of dark play in a serious video game
April 18, 2019 - Scientists revive pig brain cells four hours after death
April 18, 2019 - Filial cannibalism and offspring abandonment may be forms of parental care
April 18, 2019 - Two proteins act in concert to maintain a healthy heart in mice, shows study
April 18, 2019 - Scientists create a functioning 3D printed heart
April 18, 2019 - Non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation improves disease symptoms in patients with rheumatoid arthritis
April 18, 2019 - Majority of men struggle to understand diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer
April 18, 2019 - Researchers create new small molecules that may combat equine encephalitis viruses
April 18, 2019 - Animal-assisted therapy improves social behavior in patients with brain injuries
April 18, 2019 - Some viruses help protect harmful bacteria in CF patients | News Center
April 18, 2019 - Outpatient healthcare providers inappropriately prescribe antibiotics to 40% of patients
April 18, 2019 - Men who have a resting heart rate of 75 bpm are twice as likely to die early
April 18, 2019 - Novel serum biomarkers to detect NAFLD-related fibrosis
April 18, 2019 - New study delves deeper into individual genomic differences than ever before
April 18, 2019 - Gilead and Galapagos Announce Filgotinib Meets Primary Endpoint in the Phase 3 FINCH 3 Study in Methotrexate-Naïve Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients
April 18, 2019 - Emotional mirror neurons found in rats
April 18, 2019 - Sylvia Plevritis appointed chair of biomedical data science | News Center
April 18, 2019 - Cervical cancer subtype increasing in several subpopulations of women
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