Damage or pain, mainly affecting the middle ear, caused by pressure changes

  • Air travel and diving are risk factors
  • Age, gender, and genetics are not significant factors

If the pressure on the outer side of the eardrum exceeds the pressure on the inner side, the middle ear may become damaged or painful, a condition called barotrauma. Changes in outside pressure are common when flying or diving and may cause pain or a feeling of fullness in the ears. If you swallow or hold your nose and exhale with your mouth closed, the eustachian tubes, which connect the ears to the nose and throat will usually open, allowing air into the middle ear and equalizing the pressure. If insufficient air enters the middle ear, barotrauma occurs. The condition is more likely if the eustachian tubes are blocked as a result of a cold or ear infection (see Otitis media).

Small pressure changes may cause pain and temporary ringing or buzzing in the ears (see Tinnitus). An extreme pressure imbalance may lead to a ruptured eardrum, bleeding into the middle ear, or damage to the inner ear, which may result in hearing loss and vertigo.

If symptoms do not clear up in a few hours, see your doctor. If you have a cold or ear infection, avoid flying or diving. If you must fly, use a decongestant beforehand to clear the eustachian tubes.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

Back to top