If you’ve ever experienced pain or pressure in your ears when flying or scuba diving, you’re familiar with barotrauma. It occurs when there is a change in the pressure of our surroundings and symptoms can range from mild and annoying to debilitating.
Let’s examine how barotrauma affects our ears as well as what can be done to prevent symptoms.
What Is Barotrauma?
While most often associated with the ears, barotrauma can affect other body parts as well. According to the National Library of Medicine, “barotrauma is physical tissue damage caused by an unrelieved pressure differential between a surrounding gas or fluid and an unvented body cavity. The damage is due to compressive/ expansive forces and shear, leading to overstretching of tissues.” While it most commonly affects the sinuses and middle ear, it can also cause facial injury as well as gastrointestinal and lung problems in more severe cases.
How It Affects Our Ears
The most common place for people to experience barotrauma is when flying, more specifically when the plane is taking off and/or landing. When the plane takes off the pressure in the cabin decreases and can push your eardrum outward. When landing, the pressure in the cabin increases and can push it inward. The popping sound in your ears occurs when the air pressure inside your middle ear equalizes that of your outside surroundings.
Some people, including younger children or those with sinus issues or ear infections, may have a more difficult time equalizing pressure, which can lead to symptoms like:
- Pressure or pain in one or both ears
- A sensation of fullness in the ears
- Temporary hearing loss
- In some cases, a ruptured eardrum
How To Avoid Ear Pain When Flying
Before you head out to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to catch your next flight, consider the following steps to help prevent ear pain while flying:
- Avoid flying when sick if you can help it
- Take a decongestant 30 minutes before a flight (ask your doctor if this is safe for you as decongestants may pose a risk to those with certain heart conditions)
- Use nasal spray 30 minutes to an hour before takeoff and landing
- Try filtered earplugs
- Chew gum, suck on hard candy or yawn while ascending or descending to open up your Eustachian tubes
- Try the Valsalva maneuver during takeoff and landing. This is where you gently blow through your nose while pinching your nostrils and keeping your mouth closed. You may need to do this several times during descent to equalize pressure in your ears.
For more information or if you are dealing with symptoms of barotrauma that have lingered after your flight, call the experts at Arizona Desert Ear, Nose & Throat Specialists to schedule an appointment today.