Ear barotrauma is discomfort, pain and even damage in the ear that is caused by differences in the air pressure inside the eardrum and air pressure outside the eardrum. This condition usually occurs with changes in altitude like driving in mountains, flying or scuba diving.
Causes of Ear Barotrauma
Usually, the air pressure in the middle ear is equal to that outside the body. The middle ear and the upper throat and back of the nose are connected by the Eustachian tube. When one yawns or swallows something, this tube opens allowing flow of air into or out of the middle ear and maintaining an equilibrium of the air pressure on both sides of the eardrum. If the Eustachian tube fails to open or is blocked, the air pressure inside the eardrum and air pressure outside the eardrum is not equal. This may cause ear barotrauma.
Most people have the condition at some point in their lives. You are likely to develop barotrauma is you have nasal congestion from upper respiratory infection, colds or allergies. A swelling in the throat can also cause this condition. In some cases, the Eustachian tube may already be blocked before birth.
Signs and symptoms of ear barotrauma
The symptoms of barotrauma will differ depending on its severity .In the early stages, you may have slight hearing loss and/or feel pain or discomfort in the ear, a stuffiness or fullness sensation in the ears, or dizziness.
When the condition is prolonged or becomes severe, you may have the following symptoms:
• Nose bleeding.
• Hearing loss (between moderate to severe)
• Pain in the ear.
• Feeling of pressure in the ear.
When the ear is being inspected, the doctor may see an inward pull or outward bulge of the eardrum. The eardrum may have bruises or blood if the condition is severe.
Treatment of ear barotrauma
In order to relieve discomfort or pain in the ear, first try to unblock the Eustachian tube by sucking on candy, yawning, chewing gum or inhaling and then exhaling gently while you hold the nostrils closed and shut the mouth.
If you are flying, avoid sleeping during descent. Try different measures to open the Eustachian tube. Young children should be made to sip a drink during descent. Scuba divers should descend and ascend slowly. If you have a respiratory infection, avoid diving as it may cause the condition to be severe.
If the condition is severe or the self-care attempts are not effective in relieving the ear pain or discomfort, it may be important to seek medical help .There are various medications that can help treat barotrauma including steroids, antihistamines and decongestants .They may help the Eustachian tube to open. You can also take antibiotics so as to prevent ear infection.
If these treatments do not allow the tube to open, you may need to undergo surgery. A surgical cut is made in the eardrum so as to allow fluid to drain and pressure to become equal. But surgery is needed in very few cases. If you are highly susceptible to barotrauma or you need to make altitude changes frequently, you can have tubes surgically inserted in your eardrum.