What is ear barotrauma?
barotrauma is a condition that causes ear discomfort due to pressure changes.
each ear there is a tube that connects the middle of your ear to your throat
and nose. It also helps regulate ear pressure. This tube is called the eustachian
tube. When the tube is blocked, you may experience ear barotrauma.
ear barotrauma is common, especially in environments where the altitude
changes. While the condition isn’t harmful in some people, frequent cases may
cause further complications. It’s important to understand the differences
between acute (occasional) and chronic (recurring) cases so you know when to
seek medical treatment.
Ear barotrauma symptoms
you have ear barotrauma, you may feel an uncomfortable pressure inside the ear.
Common symptoms, which occur earlier or in mild to moderate cases, may include:
- general ear discomfort
- slight hearing loss or difficulty hearing
- stuffiness or fullness in the ear
it progresses long enough without treatment or the case is particularly severe,
symptoms may intensify. Additional symptoms that may occur in these cases
- ear pain
- feeling of pressure in the ears, as if you were underwater
- moderate to severe hearing loss or difficulty
- ear drum injury
treated, almost all symptoms will go away. Hearing loss from ear barotrauma is
almost always temporary and reversible.
Causes of ear barotrauma
tube blockage is one of the causes of ear barotrauma. The eustachian tube helps
to restore equilibrium during changes in pressure. For example, yawning normally
opens the eustachian tube. When the tube is blocked, symptoms develop because
the pressure in the ear is different than the pressure outside of your eardrum.
changes are the most common cause of this condition. One of the places many
people experience ear barotrauma is during an airplane’s ascent or descent. The
condition is sometimes referred to as airplane ear.
situations that might cause ear barotrauma include:
- scuba diving
- driving through mountains
Diving is a common
cause of ear barotrauma. When you go diving, you are in much more pressure underwater
than on land. The first 14 feet of the dive is often the biggest risk for ear
injury for divers. Symptoms typically develop immediately or soon after the
Middle ear barotrauma
is particularly common in divers, as the pressure underwater changes
To prevent ear
barotrauma, descend slowly while diving.
issue that may block the eustachian tube puts you at risk for experiencing
barotrauma. People who have allergies, colds, or active infections may be more
likely to experience ear barotrauma.
and young children are also at risk to this condition. A child’s eustachian
tube is smaller and positioned differently than an adult’s and it may get
blocked more easily. When babies and toddlers cry on an airplane during takeoff
or landing, it’s often because they’re feeling the effects of ear barotrauma.
Diagnosing ear barotrauma
ear barotrauma may go away on its own, you should contact a doctor if your
symptoms include significant pain or bleeding from the ear. A medical exam may
be required to rule out an ear infection.
times ear barotrauma can be detected through a physical exam. A close look
inside the ear with an otoscope can often reveal changes in the eardrum. Due to
pressure change, the eardrum may be pushed slightly outward or inward from
where it should normally sit. Your doctor may also squeeze air (insufflation)
into the ear to see if there is fluid or blood buildup behind the eardrum. If
there are no significant findings on physical exam, often the situations you
report that surround your symptoms will give clues toward the correct diagnosis.
Ear barotrauma treatment
cases of ear barotrauma generally heal without medical intervention. There are
some self-care steps you can take for immediate relief. You may help relieve
the effects of air pressure on your ears by:
- chewing gum
- practicing breathing exercises
- taking antihistamines or decongestants
severe cases, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic or a steroid to help in
cases of infection or inflammation.
some cases, ear barotrauma results in a ruptured eardrum. A ruptured eardrum
can take up to two months to heal. Symptoms that don’t respond to self-care may
require surgery to prevent permanent damage to the eardrum.
severe or chronic cases of barotrauma, surgery may be the best option for
treatment. Chronic cases of ear barotrauma may be aided with the help of ear
tubes. These small cylinders are placed through the eardrum to stimulate
airflow into the middle of the ear. Ear tubes, also known as tympanostomy tubes
or grommets, are most commonly used in children and they can help prevent
infections from ear barotrauma. These are also commonly used in those with
chronic barotrauma who frequently change altitudes, like those who need to fly
or travel often. The ear tube will typically remain in place for six to 12
second surgical option involves a tiny slit being made into the eardrum to
better allow pressure to equalize. This can also remove any fluid that’s
present in the middle ear. The slit will heal quickly, and may not be a
Ear barotrauma in infants
and young children are particularly susceptible to ear barotrauma. This is
because their eustachian tubes are much smaller and straighter and therefore
struggle more with equalization.
your infant is demonstrating signs of discomfort, distress, agitation, or pain
while experiencing a change in altitude, it’s likely they’re experiencing ear
help prevent ear barotrauma in infants, you can feed them or have them drink
during altitude changes. For children with ear discomfort, your doctor may be
able to prescribe eardrops to help relieve pain.
barotrauma is usually temporary. However, complications may arise in some
people, especially in chronic cases. If left untreated, this condition may
- ear infections
- ruptured eardrum
- hearing loss
- recurring pain
- chronic dizziness and feelings of unbalance
- bleeding from the ears and nose
should contact your doctor if you have ear pain or decreased hearing.
Persistent and recurring symptoms could be a sign of severe or chronic ear
barotrauma. You doctor will treat you and give you tips to help prevent any
is a range of severities and specific types of ear barotrauma that affect how
someone recovers and what that recovery process looks like. The majority of
those who experience ear barotrauma will make a full recovery, with no permanent
recovering, patients should avoid significant pressure changes (like those
experienced while diving or on an airplane). Many cases of barotrauma will
resolve spontaneously and without any treatment.
barotrauma is caused by allergies or respiratory infections, it will often be
resolved when the underlying cause has been resolved. Mild to moderate cases
take an average of up to two weeks for a full recovery. Severe cases can take
six to 12 months for a full recovery after surgery.
When barotrauma leads to
an infection or if the pain is intense and symptoms are not resolving or are
worsening, you should make an appointment to see your doctor.
Preventing ear barotrauma
can decrease your risk of experiencing barotrauma by taking antihistamines or
decongestants before scuba diving or flying on a plane. You should always check
with your doctor and be aware of possible side effects before taking new
steps you can take to prevent or lessen barotrauma include:
- descend slowly while diving
- swallow, yawn, and chew when you feel symptoms of barotrauma,
which can relieve symptoms
- exhale through your nose during an ascent in altitude
- avoid wearing earplugs while diving or flying