by | Feb 21, 2022 | News

You likely know the feeling of your ears popping when you are at different altitudes because of the changes in air pressure. While the change seems harmless, did you know that you risk injury to your ear any time you are in a literal high-pressure situation? Whether scuba diving, flying or participating in active combat, dramatic pressure shifts can lead to barotrauma, resulting in temporary or permanent damage to your hearing.  

What Is Barotrauma?

Barotrauma refers to damage to the ear related to pressure shifts between the inside and outside of the ear. The result of the trauma can lead to temporary or permanent hearing loss, and it is often immediately accompanied by pain.  

Usually, the middle ear acts as a pressure chamber inside the ear, helping to transmit sound and protect the eardrum. When the weather or air pressure outside the ear is not balanced with the inner ear, the eustachian tube should open to equalize the pressure. Unfortunately, sometimes the eustachian tube cannot open because of the dramatic shift in pressure, resulting in damage to the eardrum. This type of trauma is common among scuba divers and frequent flyers. 

What Causes Barotrauma?

The trauma is a result of an atmospheric pressure imbalance. While the condition sounds scary, it only occurs in specific circumstances, including: 

  • Scuba diving 
  • Air travel 
  • Exposure to explosive blasts 
  • Hyperbolic oxygen therapy 

Even in these situations, ear trauma is rare. An individual must also have a problem with their eustachian tube. The problem can be mundane or ordinary, something nonthreatening that causes fluid buildup or inflammation around the tube, including: 

  • Allergies or sinus congestion 
  • Colds or other infections 
  • Hormonal changes 
  • Anatomical abnormalities 
  • Exposure to irritants 

The people most often affected by this type of trauma include military personnel and scuba divers. The symptoms of the condition can range from mild to severe, including: 

  • Ringing in the ears 
  • Feeling like you have a blocked ear 
  • Feeling pressure in the ear 
  • Dizziness 
  • Pain 
  • Hearing loss 
  • Bleeding from the ear 

How to Treat the Condition

Treatment of barotrauma will depend on the severity of the condition, your age, and general health. Fortunately, most injuries heal on their own with only mild or reversible damage. However, depending on the severity of the initial injury, your eardrum may not fully recover. 

A doctor might prescribe nasal decongestants or steroids to reduce congestion around the eustachian tube, allowing it to function normally. A physician may also prescribe pain medication or antibiotics depending on the patient’s situation. 

While surgery is not always needed, some injuries will require intervention. A surgeon might want to reconstruct the opening to the inner ear or the eardrum in severe cases. The surgery can involve a minor incision into the eardrum or the placement of a ventilation tube. 

Other medical advice might include bed rest and keeping your head elevated. The treatment options will depend on the severity of the injury. 

Ear trauma presents serious risks, especially since the ears do not heal the same as the rest of the body. In fact, many ear injuries will never properly heal.

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