Symptoms of ear barotrauma
Feeling of pressure, fullness or discomfort in the ear
Muffled sound or difficulty hearing
In more advanced cases, you might experience severe ear pain, injury to the eardrum and dizziness.
Causes of ear barotrauma
Our ears contain tubes (called Eustachian tubes) that connect your nose and throat to the middle of your ear, as well as being responsible for balancing your ear pressure. When these tubes become blocked, it affects the way the ear pressure is managed and can cause ear barotrauma.
Pressure changes associated with high altitudes is the most common reason for this, and most people will experience the conditions when a plane is landing or taking off, when they go diving, or if they are in a mountainous area where air pressure varies. Higher pressure can cause the eardrum to stretch, which is why your hearing is affected.
Young children will often experience ear barotrauma as they have narrow Eustachian tubes.
Diagnosis for ear barotrauma
Your GP will ask you about your symptoms, and when they occurred. They’ll also have a look inside your ears with an instrument called an otoscope, checking whether there is any fluid in your ear as well as the condition of your eardrum.
Ear barotrauma treatment
It’s quite normal for cases of ear barotrauma to clear on their own, without any need for treatment. This should happen after a few minutes or an hour after your symptoms begin.
In more severe cases, treatment and recovery time will depend on the underlying cause. Ear barotrauma can sometimes result in a ruptured eardrum, which can take a few weeks to completely heal.
Chronic cases of
Chronic cases can cause further issues, and in more severe cases people may experience symptoms such as:
A feeling of pressure in the ear
Drainage or bleeding from the ear
In some severe or chronic cases, surgery may be required to help with the equalisation of pressure within the ear. This can be done through grommets which are small, cylindrical tubes that are placed into the eardrum to allow air to flow through the ear. These are commonly used with those who frequently fly or change altitudes.
If you’re on a plane, or in high altitude areas like mountains, there are a few things you can do to make sure the tubes in your ears stay open and you prevent ear barotrauma:
Chew gum or suck on sweets
Make sure you’re awake while the plane is landing
Wear earplugs designed for air travel
Antihistamines or decongestants may help if you have allergies or a cold
If you’re a diver, you should descend and ascend slowly in order to allow the pressure to equalise in your ears. You can also buy ear protection to use when you go diving.
If you hear a ‘pop’ and your hearing becomes clearer, this means your Eustachian tubes have opened, and the pressure has been restored to normal.
When to consult a
If you experience any severe pain, dizziness or any fluid or drainage from the ear, it’s best to go and see your doctor. They may be able to prescribe something to help with your symptoms or diagnose any underlying conditions.
However, if you experience hearing loss that doesn’t go away, then you should see a hearcare specialist to have your hearing checked.
Recovery will depend on the severity and causes of your ear baratrauma. Generally speaking, it should only take a few minutes or a couple of hours to recover from your symptoms.
Ear barotrauma is caused by differences in outside air pressure and the pressure inside your ears. It usually happens when the tubes inside your ear become blocked, and typically happens when you fly, dive, or are in high altitude areas.
The small tubes in our ears (Eustachian tubes) are responsible for balancing pressure in the ear. So it’s important to make sure these tubes stay open in order for pressure to normalise.
This will depend on the extent of the damage to the eardrum, but can take a couple of months to heal completely.