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Do Adults With Inner Ear Damage Still Feel The Reflex To Breathe?


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Eg. when they are holding their breath. Particularly double profound inner ear damage which would also include having no balance, profound hearing loss, etc.


For example if they hold their breath, would they still get the urge to breathe as a result of the excess carbon dioxide in their blood as a result of holding their breath? Dr. Reubens proclaims that the ears are very important for breathing, and are responsible for this reflex. In particular, deaf people with damaged inner ears - and hence no balance, etc. 
Edited by LisaL
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Yes, infants, children, and adults with inner ear damage still feel the urge to breath. The urge to breath is due primarily to reduction in pH (increased concentration of H+ ions), which is detected in the brain’s central respiratory centers, which are located in the pons and the medulla.


There’s clear empirical evidence that respiration is controlled not only by this primary mechanism, but by the influence of many systems. The vestibular system (which is centered in the inner ear), for example, which allows us to sense when we are standing or lying down, appears to allow our respiratory system to adjust for mechanical differences in respiration due to these different positions. To quote Daniel Rubens’, who’s research we’re discussing in Will Inner Ear Damage Cause Suffocation?,

"There is a well-demonstrated link between alterations in balance such as standing upright from lying down that causes a change in breathing rate...”

Research such as Rubens’, suggest that damage to the vestibular system may have more than the minor effect described by conventional physiological theory. It suggest that it may cause serious, even fatal breathing disorders, in particular SIDS.


Rubens’ and similar-minded researchers are not proposing that the vestibular system is equally or more important than the central respiratory center in controlling respiration, but that it may be more important than is currently widely understood.


The systems that control respiration are complicated, and difficult to describe outside of a textbook presentation starting with basic biochemistry and physiology, but encyclopedic presentation such as the Wikipedia article “control of ventilation” do a credible job of describing it briefly.

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So in humans what detects CO2 and is responsible for that feeling to breathe when you hold your breath? Ears or brain

The brain.


This is true not only for humans, but for all mammals, and many other animals with similar body plans, such as reptiles, which is why the brainstem in mammals is sometime called “the reptilian hindbrain”. It’s an ancient system.


If you destroy or completely remove the inner ear, the animal will still have a normal breath reflex. If you destroy or remove a specific part of the brainstem, the breathing reflex is lost.

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The mice in the experiment lost the CO2-driven reflex to breathe when their inner ears were damaged, however.

They didn’t lose it – if they had, they would have died, which they didn’t. They had it slightly reduced.


When last I checked, Daniel Rubens’ paper hadn’t been published yet, so I’ve not been able to read the details of his experiment, but from news articles, I gather it involves increasing the CO2 in the air the infant mice breath, which in normal mice, should result in a slight increase in their breathing rate. Mice with chemically destroyed inner ears weren’t as sensitive to small increased in CO2, but remain sensitive to larger increases in it.

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