The passengers who suffered nosebleeds, chest pains and other medical complications on board the Mumbai-Jaipur Jet Airways flight suffered barotrauma, an injury caused to the ear due to sudden change in air pressure, Dr Amol Patil, ENT consultant in Nanavati hospital who treated five passengers, said.
“The vessels in the body open up, leading to bleeding in the nose, chest pain and nausea,” Dr Patil said. The passengers suffered from a condition called baro-otitis media, in which there is ear pain, dizziness, and muffed hearing due to the difference in the pressure in the cabin and in the middle ear.
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In this case, when the cabin pressure dropped, the oxygen supply to the lungs was also reduced, causing discomfort in the chest. Thirty passengers on board flight 9W 697 suffered barotrauma.
Lung pulmonologist Dr Jalil Parkar said the oxygen content in peripheral blood must be 100%, and carbon dioxide levels at 40%. “When the oxygen levels in blood fall below 80%, possible in such situations, there is imbalance in blood gases. It can sometimes also lead to kidney shutdown,” Parkar said.
On Thursday, passengers were able to wear oxygen masks before the oxygen levels in the body could drop too low. A few sustained blood clots in the nose, which could take a week to dissolve and discharge on their own. Passengers suffering from cough and cold suffered more complications than others. Doctors have advised the five worst affected patients to avoid air travel for at least seven days.
The Jet Airways flight return to Mumbai after passengers started to show symptoms of inadequate cabin pressure. Besides crew error, a technical problem with the pressurisation system could result in a failure to maintain pressure inside the cabin.
Cracks in windows or in the airplane’s body, or an incompletely sealed door, may be reasons. In these situations, the pilot brings the aircraft to a safe altitude, usually between 8,000 and 10,000 feet, at which passengers do not feel discomfort.
In 2005, a Helios Airways plane flying from Cyprus to Athens crashed into a mountain after a loss of cabin pressure, killing all 115 passengers and six crew on board.
In 2008, 16 passengers on a Ryanair flight from Bristol to Barcelona-Girona had to be taken to hospital after a drop in cabin pressure caused an emergency descent and diversion. And last year, an AirAsia flight from Perth to Bali plunged 20,000 feet after cabin pressure fell because of a technical issue.