Why Do My Ears Hurt When Flying/Scuba Diving?
posted by Ear, Nose, and Throat | September 8, 2017
Most people who have spent time on an airplane in the past will recall feelings of changing pressure in the ears as the plane gained or lost altitude. People who dive underwater or go climbing at high altitudes may also have experience with this sensation.
The medical term for this is ear barotrauma, a condition that causes ear discomfort due to pressure changes. Ear barotrauma occurs when the eustachian tube, which connects the middle of the ear to the throat and nose, is blocked. Occasional ear barotrauma is common, particularly when altitude changes are at play, but frequent cases may lead to complications.
Symptoms of barotrauma develop because pressure inside the ear is different than pressure outside the ear. Here are the situations that might cause this:
Any issue that may block the eustachian tubes can put you at risk for barotrauma, however. Colds, allergies and active infections may make it more likely, and infants and young children can be at risk due to smaller eustachian tubes that become blocked more easily.
Symptoms and Complications
Symptoms of ear barotrauma in mild or moderate cases may include:
If barotrauma is allowed to progress long enough without treatment, or if the case is severe, additional symptoms may include:
Ear barotrauma is usually temporary, and will generally clear up fairly quickly. However, complications may arise in certain severe or chronic cases, including:
If you have ear pain or decreased hearing, contact your doctor for treatment.
Diagnosis and Treatment
A medical exam might be required to rule out an ear infection and confirm ear barotrauma. This could include air squeezed into the ear, or a close look with an otoscope. If there are no significant findings in the physical exam, your reporting of symptoms and the situation that caused them will give clues for diagnosis.
Ear barotrauma can often be managed without medical assistance. Here are a few self-care methods to relieve pressure:
In severe cases, you may be prescribed an antibiotic or steroid to help with infection or inflammation. In other severe or chronic cases, surgery might be necessary. The most common type here is ear tubes, which are most commonly used in children and can help prevent infections from barotrauma.
Another surgical operation involves a tiny slit in the eardrum to allow pressure to equalize while removing fluid present. This may or may not be a permanent solution.
Prevention and Lessening Techniques
Steps you can take to lessen or prevent ear barotrauma include:
To learn more about ear barotrauma or to lower your risk, speak to your doctor about your options.
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.