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Ear barotrauma

  • Alternative Names

    Barotitis media; Barotrauma; Ear popping; Pressure-related ear pain; Eustachian tube dysfunction


    Treatment

    To relieve ear pain or discomfort, first try to open the eustachian tube and relieve the pressure.

    • Chew gum
    • Inhale, and then gently exhale while holding the nostrils closed and the mouth shut
    • Suck on candy
    • Yawn

    When flying, do not sleep during the descent. Use these measures frequently to open the eustachian tube. Allow infants and children to nurse or sip a drink during descent.

    Divers should descend and ascend slowly. Diving while you have allergies or a respiratory infection is dangerous, because barotrauma may be severe.

    If self-care attempts do not relieve your discomfort within a few hours, or if the barotrauma is severe, you may need medical intervention.

    Medications recommended may include:

    • Antihistamines
    • Decongestants taken by mouth or by a nose spray
    • Steroids

    These medications may relieve nasal congestion and allow the eustachian tube to open. Antibiotics may prevent ear infection if barotrauma is severe.

    If the tube will not open with other treatments, surgery may be necessary. A surgical cut is made in the eardrum to allow pressure to become equal and fluid to drain (myringotomy). However, surgery is rarely necessary.

    If you must make frequent altitude changes or you are susceptible to barotrauma, you may have tubes surgically placed in the eardrum.


    Support Groups


    Expectations (prognosis)

    Barotrauma is usually noncancerous (benign) and responds to self-care. Hearing loss is almost always temporary.


    Complications
    • Acute ear infection
    • Hearing loss
    • Ruptured or perforated eardrum
    • Vertigo

    Calling your health care provider

    Try home care measures first. If you cannot relieve the discomfort of barotrauma in a few hours, call for an appointment with your health care provider.

    Call your provider if you have barotrauma and new symptoms develop, especially:

    • Drainage or bleeding from the ear
    • Fever
    • Severe ear pain