Ear Barotrauma – Causes and Treatment

The chances are you have experienced ear barotrauma, even if you’ve never heard of it before.

Symptoms include feelings of pressure, fullness or discomfort in the ear and some difficulty hearing. You’ll be familiar with it if you’ve ever felt your ears ‘pop’ while flying or experienced pressure in your ears at high altitude. In most cases symptoms will clear on their own but sometimes people will require treatment, especially in more advanced cases where someone is in pain or feeling dizzy.

What causes ear barotrauma?

Our ears contain tubes (called eustachian tubes) that connect your nose and throat to the middle of your ear and are 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.

Treatment for ear barotrauma

If you experience the symptoms of ear barotrauma which don’t go away on their own or are particularly troubling, you should book an appointment with your GP. In 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 can cause further issues and some people may need surgery to alleviate their symptoms. 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. If, after treatment, you still have problems with your hearing, you should visit an audiologist for a hearing check.

There are also a number of simple things you can do to prevent ear barotrauma if you’re on a plane or in high altitude areas like mountains:

  • Drink water
  • Yawn
  • Chew gum or suck on sweets
  • Make sure you’re awake while the plane is landing



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