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Understanding the Middle Ear

The Pressure Chamber at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC


Charles D. Bluestone, MD

J. Douglas Swarts, PhD
Division of Pediatric Otolaryngology
Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC

Department of Otolaryngology
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

Video Transcript

Swarts: We use it to see what the pressure is in her ears, to start with, and we have her swallow.

Bluestone: What we’re seeing today is a pressure chamber. This pressure chamber is like walking into a little submarine, and you walk in the submarine and this pressure can be altered to mimic, again, going up and down a mountain or going up the U.S. Steel Building and coming down the elevator.

Swarts: We’re trying to see how easy it is to open her Eustachian tube, just passively, so we don’t want her to swallow. 

Bluestone: Everyone’s had popping and snapping when you go up and down in airplanes, or go in a car. That’s the Eustachian tube functioning, to get air into your middle ear. The beauty of the pressure chamber is that we can test function in a normal ear, or one with fluid in the ear, but mainly in a normal ear that has problems in equalizing pressure.

Swarts: The testing that we do in the pressure chamber involves, basically what we try and do is stress the Eustachian tube a little bit and the way we do that, is we apply a pressure to the middle ear, and actually to the entire body, by being in the pressure chamber. Or we decrease the pressure around the person, and then ask them to swallow. 

So what you’re going to see is, you’re going to see with the microphones in her ears, cover them up with the ear muffs, and then put sound in her nose, and you’ll see the changes in the sound levels on the screen. 

Bluestone: And that can tell us a lot about the function of the Eustachian tube, and its relationship to the middle ear. Because middle ear disease, in children and adults, is primarily due to Eustachian tube dysfunction — it doesn’t work right.

Swarts: So, what we’re trying to do is to finalize what we think is wrong in people’s Eustachian tube function. We want to actually try and help those people. 

Bluestone: So we’d like to recruit patients that have ear troubles, as we’ve discussed, but we want to be able to test patients that have no ear trouble, because we have to have normal data. In other words, since this is a new instrument that has just been perfected within the last three or four years, that we need volunteers to get testing of normal patients at different age groups, so we know what’s normal to compare it against abnormal. 

To find out more about the ENT Pressure Chamber or to volunteer for the study, call 412-692-3595.

Last Update
October 5, 2011
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Last Update
October 5, 2011
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