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I'm assuming the answer to this largely varies from person to person. Assuming you could instantly change the pressure around your head by amount $\Delta p$, what is the minimum $\Delta p$ for your ears to "pop" and adjust their inner pressure to the outside pressure?

I think the minimum building height that I have noticed this in is around 10 stories. Assuming 10 feet per story and $\Delta p = \rho g h$, the pressure difference comes out to about 0.05 psi.

What I'm asking is if there is some sort of "pressure release valve" in the ear that triggers for about the same pressure difference for most people?

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Perhaps this helps. According to Pilotfriend: "Popping of the ears is completely normal and usually occurs every 500 to 1,000 ft." [My emphasis, because I didn't realize this at all and I'm happy to know so now.] I think this is for smallish airplanes, which, I think again, aren't pressurized. Perhaps you have shorter straighter Eustachian tubes? Do you? :) –  Glen The Udderboat May 13 '13 at 17:03
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Oops, sorry, I missed the actual question. The answer, according to the same source, seems to be the "floppy walled Eustachian tubes": "During ascent the gas (air) in the middle ear cavity expands and a small amount of pressure builds up against the ear drum causing them to bulge outwards ever so slightly (that ‘fullness’ you feel in your ears just before they ‘Pop’). This pressure builds until it is sufficient to vent gas through the floppy walled Eustachian tubes. As the gas vents the ear drum settles quickly back into it’s normal position." –  Glen The Udderboat May 13 '13 at 17:11
    
I'm sure there are other (perhaps better) sources for such explanations, but this was the only one I saw that had an indication of the pressure differences involved. –  Glen The Udderboat May 13 '13 at 17:15
    
That explanation of ear popping makes sense to me. If that was an answer I would accept it. –  OSE May 13 '13 at 17:24
    
I made it into one just now. –  Glen The Udderboat May 13 '13 at 17:37

1 Answer 1

up vote 2 down vote accepted

The answer to the valve-question,1 according Pilotfriend, seems to be the "floppy walled Eustachian tubes".

During ascent the gas (air) in the middle ear cavity expands and a small amount of pressure builds up against the ear drum causing them to bulge outwards ever so slightly (that ‘fullness’ you feel in your ears just before they ‘Pop’). This pressure builds until it is sufficient to vent gas through the floppy walled Eustachian tubes. As the gas vents the ear drum settles quickly back into it’s normal position.

Extra pictures are at the hyperlink.


1 Not quite the question in the title. For the title question, the same source as above gives this indication: "Popping of the ears is completely normal and usually occurs every 500 to 1,000 ft."

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