|He described a maneuver to inflate the middle ear to erase deafness and increase suppuration caused by middle ear congestion. This is known today as the Valsalva maneuver used in medical practice, but also in deep sea diving and by pilots to clear the middle ear and balance the air pressure in the middle ear with that of the external environment. Today the cardiophysiological bodily response to Valsalva’s maneuver has been studied in detail.
Valsalva is responsible for the eponym “Eustachian tube” that refers to the muscular tube communicating the superior aspect of the pharynx (rhinopharynx) with the middle ear. He did dissections to study in detail the aorta and aortic valve, describing what today are known as the “sinuses of Valsalva”, a pocket-like dilation of the aortic valve between the aortic valve wall and the valve cusps (leaflets). Each of the coronary arteries arises from a sinus of Valsalva. Similar sinuses are found in the pulmonary valve.
During his studies of the mentally ill, Valsalva was of the opinion that madness was an organic disease and therefore mentally ill patients deserved humanitarian treatment, which was not the standard during his times.
One of his best students and pupil was Giovanni Battista Morgagni (1682-1771) who, after the death of Valsalva in 1723, used some of his unpublished material to complement his own studies and publications.
Besides the Valsalva maneuver and the sinuses of Valsalva, there are other eponyms that honor this great anatomist:
• Valsalva Antrum or mastoid antrum is a cavity in the petrous portion of the temporal bone.
• Valsalva’s ligament attaches the pinna to the side of the head.
• Valsalva’s muscle: a band of vertical muscular fibers on the outer surface of the tragus of the ear, innervated by the temporal branch of the facial nerve
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2. “Antonio Maria Valsalva - Biographical Profile of a Pioneer on Otology” Meirelles, RC et al Int. Arch Otorhinolaryngol (2008)12: 2, 274-279
3. “The Valsalva manoeuvre and Antonio Valsalva (1666-1723)” J R Soc Med. (2006) 99(9): 448–451
4. “A short biography on the life of the dedicated anatomist –Valsalva” Kazi, R . J Postgrad Med (2004) 50:314-5
5. “Antonio Maria Valsalva (1666 – 1723)” Yale SH Clin Med Res (2005) 3(1): 35–38
Original image courtesy of the National Library of Medicine