Barotrauma can be referred to injuries which are caused by increased air or water pressure, like at the time of airplane flights or scuba diving. Barotrauma of the ear is very common. Generalized barotraumas, also called decompression sickness, affects the entire body.
Your middle ear is consisting of the eardrum and the space behind it. The only connection between your middle ear and the "outside world" is a thin canal that is called the Eustachian tube. This further connects your ear with the back of your mouth.
When you swallow, you sometimes notice a small click in your ears. This can be a bubble of air that is being moved through the Eustachian tube. These bubbles are constantly moving into the middle ear, where they balance the ear's inner pressure. Ear barotrauma can happen when these tubes become blocked or partially blocked.
On an airplane, barotrauma to the ear – also called aero-otitis or barotitis – can occur as the plane descends for landing. Barotrauma of the ear also can happen when scuba divers descend.
The pressure change can create a vacuum in the middle ear that pulls the eardrum inward. This can further cause pain and can muffle sounds as well. After this, your ear will feel stuffed and you may feel as if you need to "pop" it.
Barotrauma is the most common medical problem reported by air travelers. It is much more likely to happen to people who have colds, allergies or infections when they are flying.
This condition is very common in children because their Eustachian tubes are narrower than those of adults and become blocked more easily.
Diagnosis of barotrauma
You can diagnose a mild case of ear barotrauma yourself, and you do not need to see a doctor. If you are not so sure about your symptoms, a doctor can check your middle ear with a lighted magnifying tool called an otoscope to see if the eardrum is pulled inward or not.
Clear fluid behind the eardrum sometimes can be very difficult to see. If the collection of fluid is not seen, your doctor may squeeze a puff of air into your ear canal.
If the eardrum does not move well, you probably have fluid behind the eardrum. A perforated eardrum can be diagnosed by looking at the ear with an otoscope.
Symptoms of Barotrauma
Common symptoms of ear barotrauma include:
- Ear pain
- A sensation that the ears are stuffed
- A need to "pop" your ears by swallowing, yawning or chewing gum
More severe signs include:
- Extreme pain in the ear
- Dizziness (vertigo)
- Bleeding or fluid coming from the ear, which can mean you have a ruptured eardrum
- Hearing loss
Barotrauma of the lungs which is linked with scuba diving can result in coughing up blood after diving, although this is rare.
Treatment of Barotrauma
If you experience the symptoms of barotrauma at the time of flight, there are many things you can do:
- You can Chew gum or suck on hard candy.
- If you don't have gum or candy, yawn and swallow frequently.
- If these above mentioned methods don't work, pinch your nose closed, inhale through your mouth, and then try to push the air out through your nose while keeping it pinched shut. Don't push hard, and stop as soon as one ear pops.
Most of the cases of persistent barotrauma of the ear can be treated with decongestants. In unusually persistent cases, an ear, nose and throat doctor may have to make a small cut in the eardrum to equalize the pressure and drain the fluid.
If you are having a ruptured eardrum, you need to keep water out of your ear to prevent infection. A perforation of the eardrum that has not healed after two months may need to be repaired surgically.