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Can water go between ear and mouth?
August 7, 2006 2:38 PM   Subscribe

There isn't a connection between the ear and mouth that water can possibly flow through...is there?

After a recent trip to the beach, a friend put some alcohol in his ear to dry up the extra water. He swears he could feel it run through and taste alcohol in his mouth afterward. I always thought the inner ear was closed and had no opening. Any way this could have happened? (first post, hi everyone)
posted by j_gd00 to Science & Nature (25 answers total)
 
?
posted by Ryvar at 2:40 PM on August 7, 2006


There are, in fact. They're called the Eustachian tubes.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:41 PM on August 7, 2006


Yup, and if you hold your nose and mouth closed and try to blow out, you can often clear your ears from an elevation blockup.

There's a name for this, but I can't remember what.
posted by Kickstart70 at 2:44 PM on August 7, 2006


But isn't your eardrum (normally) intact? Thus preventing water/liquid from getting into the middle ear where it could enter the eustachian tubes?
posted by unknowncommand at 2:46 PM on August 7, 2006


IANAD, but wouldn't your friend have to have a perforated ear drum in order for a substance poured into his ear canal express itself in his mouth? (Eustachian tubes open to the middle ear, on the other side of the ear drum membrane).
posted by jamaro at 2:48 PM on August 7, 2006


Sorry, probably should have included some text with that link. Anyways, yeah, as both monju and I said it's the Eustachian tube. If you're bored you can try learning to flex it (and thus pop your ears) manually. People never believe me until I hold up a microphone to my ear, turn the stereo up to 11 and start tapping out Morse code. Very handy skill if you fly a lot.
posted by Ryvar at 2:49 PM on August 7, 2006 [1 favorite]


Sweet jesus that's creepy.
posted by beerbajay at 2:49 PM on August 7, 2006


small perforations in the ear drum are very common.
posted by ptm at 2:49 PM on August 7, 2006


ai yi yi, i'll never be that bored. i hope. ;)
posted by jamaro at 2:51 PM on August 7, 2006


I was able to find lots of illustrated info about the ear-throat connection by googling "ear throat connection." (That cochlea thing is very cool!)
posted by wryly at 3:10 PM on August 7, 2006


Yup, and if you hold your nose and mouth closed and try to blow out, you can often clear your ears from an elevation blockup.

There's a name for this, but I can't remember what.


It's the Valsalva maneuver.
posted by bedhead at 3:10 PM on August 7, 2006


Your eardrum isn't watertight, though it would block it from flowing completely freely.
posted by borkingchikapa at 3:18 PM on August 7, 2006


What? Of course your eardrum is watertight if it is completely healthy. It's not only watertight, it's airtight. That's the whole point of an eardrum.
posted by Justinian at 3:26 PM on August 7, 2006


IIAD (although not your doctor), and it should be stated unequivocally: a healthy eardrum is completely, absolutely, totally watertight; I have no idea what borkingchikapa is talking about. And as jamaro states, the eustacian tubes open up into your middle ear (the area behind the eardrum and in front of the cochlea) -- you can see an image of that here, or do a search for "middle ear" on Google Images). So no, unless there was some issue wherein your friend has/had a hole in his eardrum, there should be no way for anything at all to get from his outer ear -- the part outside the eardrum -- into anywhere at all, including his mouth.

(I'm also not quite sure what ptm's references are re: "small perforations of the ear drum are common" -- I've never heard that.)
posted by delfuego at 3:55 PM on August 7, 2006


Ryvar, I have been able to do this for years, and never knew what it was. Thanks for clearing it up.
posted by scodger at 3:58 PM on August 7, 2006


"There is no direct connection between the ear canal and the throat."

A lot of what people perceive as taste is actually smell. Though he could "taste [it] in his mouth," the sensation may have come via olfactory perception of the alcohol. (Taste is a weird sense--anyone who's had the misfortune to touch DMSO can vouch for that.)
posted by neda at 4:18 PM on August 7, 2006


Ryvar, is that the thing where you sorta make a half-swallowing motion in your throat and your ears crackle?

If so, I can do it too, and it's hella useful on airplanes.

(It's also evidence of a connection between ears and throat, though whether liquid could get through there or not is another question entirely.)
posted by bink at 5:30 PM on August 7, 2006


I know that the Doctor on the bbc website linked above says "No." But my own doctor said "Yes" when I asked her three weeks ago. She's a resident in internal medicine. Some water in a swimming pool entered my ear and I tasted/felt it in the back of my throat. I thought ears were water-tight, so I made an appointment. She said there was a small opening behind the eardrum that allowed this to happen. She also checked my eardrum to make sure it wasn't perforated - it wasn't.

And in case she was wrong, there is also a chance that the alcohol could have entered the tubes as a gas or pure alcohol -- just because the eardrum is air-tight and water-tight doesn't mean it is evaporated-alcohol or liquid-alcohol tight.
posted by Eringatang at 6:47 PM on August 7, 2006


Ryvar, is that the thing where you sorta make a half-swallowing motion in your throat and your ears crackle?

It's similar to that, sort of, but it's direct manipulation of the muscles involved without moving any facial/jaw/throat muscles - it's something I could do when I was five, and I never lost the knack. The end result is a *much* louder pop than the half-swallowing motion and with no external indication of any kind. I'm not sure how to describe other than that I flex a muscle that is inside my head just about two inches inward from both ears.
posted by Ryvar at 6:53 PM on August 7, 2006


Thanks for the example, Eringatang. He insists it was liquid and not just a smell, but has had an ear exam since. Eardrums are fine, so it must be something similar.
posted by j_gd00 at 8:11 PM on August 7, 2006


People never believe me until I hold up a microphone to my ear, turn the stereo up to 11 and start tapping out Morse code. Very handy skill if you fly a lot.

I fly a lot, and I can honestly say I've never run into a situation where doing that would have been useful.
posted by dmd at 8:22 PM on August 7, 2006 [1 favorite]


The middle ear & throat are connected, but not the outer ear & throat by any source I can find. Perhaps the internist was referring to the structures on the inner side of the eardrum (i.e. "behind" the eardrum)? The middle ear space (aka tympanic cavity, behind the eardrum) itself isn't sealed; as mentioned above the eustachian tube opens the middle ear space to the throat, & the space is connected with the air space of the surrounding mastoid bone. But "the ear drum seals the outside (external ear canal) from the inside (middle ear)." I mean, anatomists have names practically every hole you can find in our bodies "sinus X" or "cavity Y"--if there's such a hole that connects the outside ear canal with the middle ear, why isn't it in any of those above linked diagrams? What's it called?

In fact, when ENTs wish to open up the barrier between the outer & middle ear to drain fluid from the middle ear out (myringotomy), they insert a tube into the incision to keep the eardrum from sealing up again--otherwise the eardrum would normally heal up within a couple days.

I'm skeptical only because I've poured hydrogen peroxide into my ear canal with a tilted head many a time, and I've never had the H2O2 get into my middle ear & down my throat.

Ryvar, is that the thing where you sorta make a half-swallowing motion in your throat and your ears crackle?
Some divers (and ww2 german bombers) do something similar to that called the Frenzel maneuver--no nose pinching, just weird swallowing.
posted by neda at 10:08 PM on August 7, 2006



Ryvar, is that the thing where you sorta make a half-swallowing motion in your throat and your ears crackle?


As well as being useful on airplanes, a similar maneuver can be used to "pinch out" loud sound in a dangerously noisy environment.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:43 PM on August 7, 2006


I can do that ear pressure thing too, hands free. No apparent sign like swallowing or anything, I just do something in the back of my throat, and *pop*. Wildly useful when I got my scuba license, my instructor had never seen anyone who could do it.
posted by tomble at 11:22 PM on August 7, 2006


I've used an ear wax solvent a few times, and had that run down the back of my throat, which can add a very distinctive taste to the saliva back there.
So now you guys have me worried. My hearing isn't particularly great for my age, but I assumed that was all the rock music :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 1:08 AM on August 8, 2006


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