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Barotrauma is physical damage to body tissues caused by a difference in pressure between a gas space inside, or in contact with, the body, and the surrounding gas or fluid. Ear barotrauma is a type of ear damage. It is caused by pressure differences between the inside of the ear and the outside of the ear. It can cause pain and sometimes lifelong (permanent) hearing loss. The middle ear is an air-filled space between the inner and outer parts of the ear. Barotrauma is a condition in which the alveoli (air sacs of the lungs) rupture with a subsequent entry of air into the surrounding extra alveolar space. Barotrauma is typically caused by lung air sacs rupturing or a direct injury. Barotrauma can complicate mechanical ventilation, as it is associated with life-threatening conditions or even death.

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Nov 16, 2020.

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What is barotrauma?

Barotrauma is an injury to your body caused by a pressure change. You may have an injury to your ears, sinuses, or teeth. It can also affect your lungs, stomach, or intestines. It is also called ear, sinus, lung, or gut squeeze.

What increases my risk of barotrauma?

  • History of barotrauma
  • Activities such as scuba diving or flying
  • Blast injuries
  • Use of a ventilator
  • Hyperbaric oxygen treatment

What are the signs and symptoms of barotrauma?

  • Pain or a full feeling in your teeth, ears, face, chest, or abdomen
  • Popping in your ears when you swallow, yawn, or chew
  • Ringing in your ear or loss of hearing
  • Not being able to smile or frown
  • Fluid draining from your nose or ear
  • Dizziness or trouble breathing
  • Nausea, gas, or not being able to have a bowel movement
  • Blood in your bowel movement
  • Bruising, red or purple spots on your skin, or a rash that itches

How is barotrauma diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask how and when your symptoms started. He will also ask if you take medicine or have other health conditions. He may ask you to chew, swallow, or yawn to release air from your ears. You may also need any of the following tests:

  • Ear tests may be done to check your hearing or check for damage to your ear.
  • An x-ray may be used to check for broken bones, or fluid or air in your sinuses, abdomen, or other areas of your body.
  • A CT or MRI scan may be used to look at your bones, lungs, stomach, intestines, or blood vessels. A CT uses x-rays and an MRI uses powerful magnets to take pictures of an area of your body. You may be given dye to help the pictures show up better. Tell your healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is barotrauma treated?

Do not fly or scuba dive until your symptoms are gone. You may not need medical treatment or you may need any of the following:

  • Medicines can help decrease pain or swelling. They can also help dry fluid in your sinuses. You may also need medicine to make it easier to have a bowel movement.
  • Ear canal cleaning removes earwax and releases pressure in your ears.
  • Treatment for tinnitus helps relieve the ringing in your ears. Your healthcare provider may give you a device to put in your ears which decreases the ringing. Biofeedback therapy uses patches of electric current to relax your face and neck muscles. Your healthcare provider may also use transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy. This uses an electrical current placed on the skin near your ears. You may get therapy to help you learn not to hear any ringing sounds.
  • Oxygen helps increase the oxygen level in your body and help with healing. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy may also help to reduce symptoms of barotrauma.
  • Surgery may be needed to repair damage from barotrauma. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about possible surgeries you may need.

Barotrauma Console Commands

How can I help prevent barotrauma?

  • Do not fly or scuba dive following a cold or ear infection. Ask your healthcare provider if and when it is safe for you to do these activities.
  • Follow the guidelines about the recommended time between flights, scuba dives, or skydives. Do not exercise or take a hot bath right after you scuba dive.
  • Keep your ears clear when you fly or scuba dive. Avoid earplugs and tight-fitting hoods when you dive. Swallowing, yawning, or moving your jaw sideways may help your ears adjust during pressure changes. Do not sleep during take-off or landings. You may also pinch your nose, close your mouth, and gently push air out as if you are blowing your nose. You may also pinch your nose and say the letter K over and over again.

Barotrauma Creatures

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You are dizzy, feel nauseated, or vomit.
  • You have a headache, face pain, or feel like one or both of your ears are blocked or painful.
  • You have swelling or pain in your abdomen or rectum.
  • You have severe pain in a joint or muscle.
  • You have swelling in your face, legs, or feet.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You have blood or fluid coming from your ear or nose.
  • You have skin changes, such as a rash or red or purple patches.
  • You cough up blood, have trouble breathing, or have chest pain.
  • You feel drowsy, there are changes in the way that you act, or you have trouble thinking clearly.
  • You have odd eye movements, or you have trouble keeping your balance.
  • You have changes in your hearing.
  • You cannot feel your arm or leg.
  • Your neck, shoulders, or chest swell, and your voice changes.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2020 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Barotrauma means injury to your body because of changes in barometric (air) or water pressure. One common type happens to your ear. A change in altitude may cause your ears to hurt. This can happen if you are flying in an airplane, driving in the mountains, or scuba diving. Divers can also get decompression sickness, which affects the whole body.

Common symptoms of ear barotrauma include

  • Pain
  • A feeling that your ears are stuffed
  • Dizziness

Barotrauma Definition

Treatments for ear barotrauma include chewing gum and yawning to relieve the pressure. Medications such as decongestants may also help.

  • Airplane Ear (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
  • Ear - blocked at high altitudes (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
  • Ear barotrauma (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
  • Ears and Altitude (Barotrauma) (American Academy of Otolaryngology--Head and Neck Surgery)
  • Flying and Your Child's Ears (Nemours Foundation) Also in Spanish
  • Scuba Diving Safety (American Academy of Family Physicians) Also in Spanish
  • Barotrauma (National Institutes of Health)

Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)

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Barotrauma Wiki

  • Article: Dysbaric osteonecrosis in technical divers: The new 'at-risk' group?
  • Article: Monoplace chamber treatment of decompression illness: Review and commentary.
  • Article: Thermal balance of spinal cord injured divers during cold water diving:...
  • Barotrauma -- see more articles