Barotrauma is a condition caused by changes in air pressure and typically affects the ears. You'll recognise it if you've ever felt your ears 'pop' after a flight or going diving.
Symptoms of ear barotrauma are:
A feeling of pressure, fullness or discomfort in the ear
Muffled sound or difficulty hearing
Vertigo (dizziness or spinning)
In more advanced cases, you might experience severe ear pain, injury to the eardrum causing bleeding and dizziness.
Our ears contain tubes (called Eustachian tubes) that connect your nose and throat to the middle of your ear, which are responsible for balancing your ear pressure. When these tubes become blocked, the balance of pressure is affected and this can cause ear barotrauma.
Pressure change associated with high altitudes is the most common reason for barotrauma. Most people will experience the condition when a plane is landing or taking off, when they go diving, or if they are in a mountainous area where air pressure varies.
Your GP will ask you about your symptoms, and when they occurred. They'll also have a look inside your ears with an instrument called an otoscope, checking whether there is any fluid in your ear, as well as the condition of your eardrum. You may be referred to an audiology professional to have your hearing tested and to have a specialised test called tympanometry, which measures the pressure of the middle ear and eardrum.
Treatment and prevention
It's quite normal for cases of ear barotrauma to clear on their own, without any need for treatment. This should happen after a few minutes or an hour after your symptoms begin. In more severe cases, treatment and recovery time will depend on the underlying cause. Ear barotrauma can sometimes result in a ruptured eardrum, which can take a few weeks or months to heal completely .