Ear Barotrauma - What is it?
All of us would have experienced pain in our ears without knowing the cause of it in our lifetime. If you experience such pain when you are flying in an airplane or while doing Scuba diving, it is known as Ear Barotrauma.
It is a pain arising in the ear due to pressure difference between the inside and outside of the eardrum. Normally, the pressure in the middle ear will be the same as that of the pressure outside the body.
But when this pressure difference gets varied, pain or discomfort will arise in the ear. This discomfort due to ear pressure is also known as Eustachian tube dysfunction, Barotitis media, etc.
Common Causes of an Ear Barotrauma
Ear Barotrauma is common in most of the occasions. Some of the occasions that can arise from a pressure difference in the human ear are listed below.
Flying at high altitudes – Normally in an airplane
Having issues with ear wax:Scuba diving – And underwater diving activity
Driving in the mountains.
Various Causes explained
Flying at high altitudes – We all know that there will be a pressure change in the atmosphere if we go high altitudes. The Eustachian Tube is not capable of adapting to this sudden change of pressure when we fly. This causes Ear Barotrauma.
Scuba diving – Like the pressure change happening while we fly, the pressure differs when we go down the water also. This can also create pain in the divers during descending in water.
Common Cold – Common cold that affects the nasal cavity is also responsible for the blockage of the Eustachian Tube.
Allergies – There is only a little difference between cold and an allergy. The latter is caused due to foreign agents like dust, pet dander, etc.
What is actually happening there?
If there is a pressure system, there should be a pressure regulator. Similarly, the pressure regulator responsible for maintaining the pressure difference inside the middle ear is a tube called Eustachian Tube.
Eustachian Tube is a tube that connects two areas such as the middle ear, and the conjunction of the nasal cavity and upper throat. When we yawn or swallow food particles, this tube opens allowing outside air to flow through the middle ear.
This maintains the pressure inside the middle ear and outside pressure equalized. But if this tube is blocked due to any external object or similar causes, a pressure-induced pain will arise in the eardrum which is called Ear Barotrauma. The blockage of Eustachian Tube is the main cause of Ear Barotrauma.
Symptoms of Ear-pressure
Ear Barotrauma can be confirmed with the following symptoms.
An Ear pain
A sensation urging you to yawn or move your jaws without any need (“Pop”)
A feeling that you have your ears stuffed.
Bleeding of ears because of a ruptured eardrum.
A fluid coming from the ear.
How long will it take to heal?
In most of the cases, the ear pain will be relieved after the pressure difference is equalized. Serous Otitis will extend up to several weeks since it’s serious. However, hearing without any difficulties will take a few weeks.
Getting relieved from ear pressure
Since the illness is common, there should be some methods to get relief from it. Some of them are discussed here.
During The Flight:
As said earlier, a change in altitude causes ear barotrauma. In those cases, it will be helpful if you yawn or chew gum. These processes will open the Eustachian Tube at quick successions allowing the air to flow and make the pressure equalized. It is better to avoid any flight travel while you have upper respiratory problems or an allergic attack. This will make the journey even worse.
Cleaning Up Ear Wax
Although ear wax helps in protecting the ear from foreign particles, over accumulation can lead to the blockage of the Eustachian tube causing Ear Barotrauma. So, proper removal of excess ear wax will prevent the issue.
Since congestion in the nasal cavity can also cause Ear Barotrauma, decongestants can be used to get relief from the nasal congestion and hence protection from the possibility of a Eustachian blockage. These decongestants come in the form of nasal sprays that can be used easily.
Foreign Particles Blocking The Tube
Some foreign particles will be large enough to easily remove from the ear. If you can’t, try washing out the particle using hot water and tilting the head.
Although there are many personal activities that can relieve us from the pain, it is always recommended to consult a doctor if the pain intensifies and lasts for a long period. OTC treatment can help in decreasing the pain. If you get fever and dizziness following the initial pain, a doctor’s consultation is a must.
The discomforts caused due to cold and allergies are the same and so the relieving methods. You can use nasal sprays to avoid congestion due to allergens.
Being Upright Will Help
If we have pressure in the eardrums, lying upside down in bed will be the worst thing to do. Being upright will help to decrease the pressure to some extent. This should be followed while you are having a cold.
Blow Your Nose
The basic method of getting rid of unwanted particles in the nasal cavity is to blow them off. This can be done by blocking one nostril and blowing through the other.
Complications that may arise due to Ear Barotrauma
The initial symptoms of Ear Barotrauma will seem normal. But if you do not treat it well in those initial stages, it may lead to further serious complications as listed below.
A permanent hearing loss.
Ruptured eardrum (Breaking of the eardrum)
Acute ear infection.
Dizziness also called Vertigo.
Surgeries for severe ear-pressure issues
Some rare cases of Ear Barotrauma will include severe pain that is unbearable even after personal treatment and medications. These cases will need medical surgery to be recovered. Some of the surgeries for Ear Barotrauma are listed below.
Myringotomy: Myringotomy is a surgical process that includes a tiny incision made inside the eardrum to relieve the pain and pressure caused by the buildup of excessive fluid. An incision is a cut made in the skin or flesh. So, a cut in the eardrum can help with the movement of fluid.
Placement of ear tubes: Similar to Myringotomy, the Ear tube placement is the surgical process of making an incision in the eardrum to drain the fluid. It is followed by the placement of plastic tube-like structures in there to prevent future buildup of the fluid and so the blockage of the Eustachian Tube.
So, Ear Barotrauma is one of the common issues due to pressure changes in the atmosphere or the surroundings. You need not fear of it if you take preventative measures and if you know how to get relief from it. Considering your nasal cavity condition; cold; and other upper respiratory issues you should plan your flight travels and hill station driving. Scuba Divers should get a consultation with their trainers to know the correct velocity of descending in water to avoid barotrauma issues in the ear. If you get the trauma, try the relief methods explained in the article.