Ear Barotrauma: Pressure in The Ears (Causes Symptoms & Treatment)

Do you ever feel like your head is spinning or unbalanced? The buildup of ear pressure in your ear perhaps be the reason behind it. The pressure in the ear is also known as “ear popping” or “blocked ear”. There are many names for ear sensation: Ear barotrauma, Ear fullness, Stuffy ear.

There are many of us who experience ear barotrauma or ear fullness but if it didn’t get diagnosed at the right time. It eventually, result in losing their hearing in the afflicted ear. But the good news is if you experience hearing loss due to ear fullness or ear barotrauma. You can have your hearing back and the loss will only be temporary and is also reversible.

What is ear barotrauma?

It is a condition that causes discomfort in the ear as the pressure changes. The Eustachian tube is present in the lower right corner of the ear. This tube connects to the nasopharynx and helps in equalizing the ear pressure between the outside surrounding and the middle ear.

Usually, the eustachian tube remains closed, but in response to the pressure differentials, it opens. And when you do other activities such as swallowing. When eustachian tube gets blocked then you will experience ear barotrauma. Most of the answers behind relieving the ear pressure or pain and what causes the ear pressure revolves around the Eustachian tube to some or the other degree.

In most of the environment where the altitude is very high, ear barotrauma is very common. Although this condition is not harmful in some individual, while there are some repeated cases of further complications.

Therefore, it becomes very important to know the difference between chronic( occasional) and acute( recurring) cases. So, that a person understands when to consult a doctor for medical treatment.

 Ear barotrauma symptoms

The severity of all the symptoms mainly depends on the impact of the pressure on the eardrum and the time duration of the pressure. Some of the common symptoms, occurring in the early stages of mild or moderate cases are-

  • Fullness or stuffiness in the ear,
  • Difficulty in the hearing,
  • Dizziness,
  •  Ear discomfort.

In case of all the above symptoms, if the person didn’t consult for medical help, there is greater possibility that symptoms may increase. But after treatment, all the symptoms go away. Here is a list of additional symptoms that can occur in some of the cases –

  • Nosebleed,
  • Ear pain,
  • moderate to severe hearing impairment,
  • Injury in the eardrum,
  • In case of underwater, a feeling of ear pressure.

It becomes sometimes very challenging to diagnose the accurate cause of ear pressure. Depending on the cause ear pressure can be from an ear infection or hearing loss. In most of the cases, it can also be from a sinus infection.

It is almost a necessity to diagnose an exact cause of the ear pressure, as the treatment process varies according to the cause.

Causes of Ear Pressure

Most of the ear pressure results from eustachian tube. Giving attention to your body signals help in identifying the causes at an early stage.

Causes of Ear Barotrauma

One of the main cause of Ear barotrauma is the blockage of the Eustachian tube. This tube helps in restoring the equilibrium during the time when pressure changes. As a result of rapid changes in the surrounding air pressure or high atmospheric pressure, the eustachian tube opening closes. Therefore symptoms develop the change in pressure.

Especially during airplane taking off or landing and at high altitudes this condition occurs more often. Sometimes this condition is also known as airplane ear. There are some other conditions that can also cause ear barotrauma such as –

  • Hiking,
  • Underwater water sports or scuba diving,
  • Driving on mountains.

When driving along mountains or getting involved in elevated activities. Therefore, air is unable to reach your middle ear, as the eustachian tube is closed.

This causes the eardrum to bulge because of the lower pressure in the middle ear as compared to the pressure in the outer surrounding. This can cause ear pain and sometimes additional injuries.

Barotrauma also happens if the throat swells up which prevents air from entering through the eustachian tube. It also occurs with the pain in the ear. In some of the severe situations, the barotrauma causes the eardrum to rupture resulting in the nose or ear bleeding.

Ear Congestion

One of the other function of the Eustachian tube is to drain mucus or fluid of the ear. In case, because of infection, the Eustachian tube becomes inflamed then as a result fluid get build up. This build up fluid creates eardrum pressure and pressure on the surrounding.

This fluid not only cause ear pressure, hearing difficulty, loss of balance, ringing in the ear(tinnitus). In addition, it also breeds bacteria and additional infections.

Eustachian Tube Dysfunction

As a result of cold or similar infection, eustachian tube dysfunction occurs. Therefore Eustachian tube gets swollen and inflamed because of the plugged nose or ear and mucus build up.

Usually, this mucus build up and swelling take few weeks to go away. In some of the cases, high fever can also be the cause. Eustachian tube dysfunction occurs mainly with a feeling of fullness in the ear, dulled or muffled hearing, ringing or buzzing in the ear, dizziness, and pain in the ear as the eardrum is tensed and stretched from the ear pressure.

Obstruction

Obstruction occurs when there is a blockage in the ear that prevents the surrounding air to enter your ear. The main reason behind the blockage is the buildup of ear wax and sometimes a bone overgrowth. It can occur if something gets inserted into your ear. This obstruction is more common in children as compared to adults.

Read more:- How to Remove Earwax Naturally?

Risk Factors

Individuals who have colds, allergies, or infection are at high risk of experiencing ear barotrauma. Kids and young adults are more prone to this condition. As a child eustachian tube is much smaller as compared to adults and it is also positioned differently. Therefore, eustachian tube can block easily in children.

Most of the time you find baby cries while landing or taking off, the main reason behind is the effect of ear barotrauma.

Diagnosis

In most of the cases, ear barotrauma effects are temporary and one needs to consult a physician if the symptoms got severe. In case of severe symptoms people generally experience bleeding from the ear or ear pain. Therefore, one needs to go through a medical examination to rule out an ear infection.

Health professionals usually suggest physical exam. People take otoscopy, an examination involving looking closely into the ear which can sometimes reveal changes in the eardrum. Change in pressure also pushes eardrum inward or outward from its normal position.

Sometimes your physician also squeezes air into the ear( insufflation) to inspect whether there is a fluid buildup behind the eardrum or not. In case, there are no results found from the physical exam then your doctor will prescribe you some other method for the correct diagnosis.

How to Relieve Ear Pressure Naturally?

There are some known methods that can open Eustachian tube and restore pressure balance to your ear. Although there are only a few natural solutions to restore ear pressure or relieve ear pain from the ear infection.

If the pain is from inflammation, then one need to wait for your doctor consult. Making any kind of self-applying tincture, whether herbal or otherwise is not prescribed without doctor’s suggestion. Although it is important to know how to relieve pressure from your ear so, here are some of the methods for the treatments.

Ear barotrauma treatment

Some of the patients get relief without medication. Here are few natural tips for immediate relief of ear pressure.

  • Drinking or Yawning – The way one person yawn involves the opening of his Eustachian tube. Also, yawning forcefully can also relieve mild barotrauma which helps in cases of dysfunction or congestion.

The eustachian tube also opens when you eat, drink or swallow something or even when you dry swallow. Drinking water can also help in most of the cases of dysfunction or ear congestion.

The water helps in making thin the mucus in the ear or eustachian tube, or nose, or in sinuses which is the source of creating the pressure.

  • Indulging Your Sweet Tooth – Chewing a gum or a candy can lead to the opening of the eustachian tube. In case you don’t like sweets, you can suck on a mint, that can also work.

Other treatments –

  • Practicing Breathing Exercises
  • Taking Decongestants by mouth or spray or antihistamines
  • Steriods
  • Yawning

In some of the cases, doctors may also suggest steroid or antibiotics fight against inflammation or infection.

Try not to sleep while landing on a flight. You can also try about listed treatment methods. For toddlers and young adults, taking small sips of any drink can also help during a flight. In some cases of scuba diving when the diver has any kind of allergies or respiratory infection, barotrauma can be dangerous.

In case any of the treatment doesn’t work then your doctor might suggest surgery to locate tubes in the eardrum.

Read more:- Airplanes and ear pain – What to do and Why it happens?

Surgery

According to health professionals, surgery is one of the best options if your ear barotrauma is severe. Surgery is must if the ear barotrauma has not healed ever after the treatment of two months. Ear tubes are the small cylinder which is located through the eardrum and it encourages the airflow into the middle of the ear. These tubes are also called grommets or tympanostomy rubes.

Ear tubes are mostly used in preventing infection from ear barotrauma in children. They usually keep in place for 6 to 12 months. The second choice for surgery is a tiny slit made into the eardrum to equalizing the ear pressure. This slit will heal quickly and also helps in removing the fluid accumulated in the ear. Although it is not a permanent solution.

Ear barotrauma in kids

Mostly kids and young adults are more prone to ear barotrauma. At this young age, their eustachian tube is very small in size and have difficulty in equalization. If your child is experiencing ear barotrauma, he must be showing symptoms of distress, discomfort, pain, and agitation.

Health professionals suggest that drinking fluid is a good option while experiencing any kind of change in altitude. For pain relief, doctors prescribe eardrops for infants.

Possible complications

In many individuals symptoms of ear barotrauma are temporary. Although some people experience chronic cases. In case it is left untreated, then it results in some potential complications such as –

  • Hearing impairment
  • Perforated or ruptured eardrum
  • Acute ear infection
  • Bleeding from the nose and the ear
  • Recurring pain
  • Feeling of unbalance ( vertigo)
  • chronic dizziness.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

If you experience any kind of hearing difficulty or ear pain then consult a doctor immediately before the symptoms turn out to be chronic. As repeated symptoms can be a sign of chronic or severe ear barotrauma such as –

  • Severe ear pain,
  • Bleeding from the ear,
  • Fever.

Recovery

Every other person has experience specific type of ear barotrauma. Most of the patients have a temporary hearing loss. It is recommended to avoid traveling at high altitudes while recovering as the pressure changes as altitude differs.

Some of the patient’s experiencing ear barotrauma get relief from ear pressure without any kind of treatment. In case, the patient has ear barotrauma because of respiratory infection or allergies then it is prevented only when the masked cause is resolved.

Preventing Ear Barotrauma

Individuals who experience allergy attack or have an upper respiratory infection should avoid altitude changes. To decrease ear pressure you can take decongestants or antihistamines before going for scuba diving or for flying.

Here are some steps listed below to decrease or prevent ear barotrauma –

  • Try to exhale through your nose when altitude changes,
  • When experiencing symptoms you can yawn, swallow, chew or drink for relief,
  • Do not wear earplugs while flying or diving,
  • Slow your speed while driving or descent slowly while scuba diving.


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