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Alternative namesBarotitis media; Barotrauma; Ear popping; Pressure-related ear pain; Eustachian tube dysfunction
DefinitionA condition of discomfort in the ear caused by pressure differences between the inside and the outside of the eardrum.
Causes, incidence, and risk factorsThe air pressure in the middle ear is usually the same as the air pressure outside of the body. The eustachian tube is a connection between the middle ear and the back of the nose and upper throat. Swallowing or yawning opens the eustachian tube and allows air to flow into or out of the middle ear, equalizing the air pressure on both sides of the eardrum. If the eustachian tube is blocked, the air pressure in the middle ear is different than the pressure on the outside of the eardrum, causing barotrauma.
Many people experience barotrauma at some time. Barotrauma commonly occurs with altitude changes, such as with flying, scuba diving, or driving in the mountains. If you have a congested nose from allergies , colds , or upper respiratory infection , barotrauma is more likely. Blockage of the eustachian tube could also be congenital or may occur because of swelling in the throat.
Signs and testsDuring an inspection of the ear, the doctor may see a slight outward bulge or inward retraction of the eardrum. If the condition is severe, there may be blood behind the eardrum. Severe barotrauma may be difficult to distinguish from ear infection .
To relieve ear pain or discomfort, first attempt to open the eustachian tube and relieve the pressure. Suck on candy, chew gum, or yawn. Or inhale, then gently exhale while holding the nostrils closed and the mouth shut.
If self-care attempts are unsuccessful at relieving discomfort within a few hours, or if barotrauma is severe, medical intervention may be necessary.
Expectations (prognosis)Barotrauma is usually benign and responsive to self-care. Hearing loss is almost always temporary.
Calling your health care providerHome care measures should be attempted first. If the discomfort of barotrauma is not relieved within a few hours, call for an appointment with the health care provider.
Call the health care provider if new symptoms develop in a person with barotrauma, especially fever , severe ear pain , or drainage from the ear .
PreventionNasal decongestants or antihistamines may be used before altitude changes. Try to avoid altitude changes during upper respiratory infections or attacks of allergies .
Update Date: 2/5/2003Edward Chang, MD, DDS, Facial Reconstructive Surgical and Medical Center, Palo Alto California. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT