Barotrauma

What Is It?

Barotrauma refers to injuries caused by increased air or water pressure, such as during airplane flights or scuba diving. Barotrauma of the ear is common. Generalized barotraumas, also called decompression sickness, affects the entire body.

Your middle ear includes the eardrum and the space behind it. The only connection between your middle ear and the "outside world" is a thin canal called the Eustachian tube. This connects your ear with the back of your mouth. When you swallow, you may notice a small click in your ears. This is a bubble of air 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 occur when these tubes become blocked or partially blocked.

On an airplane, barotrauma to the ear – also called aero-otitis or barotitis – can happen 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 cause pain and can muffle sounds. Your ear will feel stuffed and you may feel as if you need to "pop" it.

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