Treatment for Ear Barotrauma

Doctor examining patient's ear.Ear barotrauma is a type of ear damage. It is caused by a difference in pressure between the inside of the ear and the air around you. It can cause pain and may lead to lasting hearing loss. It can harm the eardrum. The eardrum is between the outer and middle ear. Harm to the eardrum can cause bleeding or other damage to the outer, middle, or inner ear.

Flying is the most common cause of barotrauma. It can also occur with diving, decompression, a blast injury, or treatment in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber.

Types of treatment

You may be referred to an ear, nose, and throat doctor (otolaryngologist). You may not need any treatment. Most barotrauma injuries heal on their own with time, and your symptoms will go away. But your eardrum may not heal as usual if a blast caused the injury.

Your healthcare provider may tell you to rest in bed with your head raised on a pillow. You may also need to take medicine, such as:

  • Pain medicines

  • Antibiotics, if an infection develops

You may need surgery if your ear barotrauma is severe. A surgeon may rebuild the eardrum or the opening into the inner ear. A tiny cut may be made in the eardrum. In rare cases, a ventilation tube in the eardrum may be needed.

What happens if you don’t get treated?

In some cases, ear barotrauma can cause symptoms that don’t go away such as:

  • Dizziness

  • Ringing in the ears

  • Hearing loss that may require you to use a hearing aid

Follow your healthcare provider’s advice about best rest or surgery. This may help cut your risk for these problems.

Preventing ear barotrauma

You can take steps to help prevent ear barotrauma. If you are congested from a cold or allergies, you may want to postpone flying or scuba diving. Or you can take medicines such as a decongestant or antihistamine. These may help your ears equalize more easily and prevent ear barotrauma.

You can do certain things to open the eustachian tube during pressure changes, such as:

  • Swallowing often

  • Pinching your nose, closing your mouth, and then acting as if you were going to breathe out through your nose

  • Chewing gum or candy

  • Using special ear plugs during flying

Using a ventilation tube is a choice for some people whose eustachian tubes don’t work well or for those who need to fly often. These may help you if you need high pressure oxygen therapy for wound healing. A surgeon places these tubes in the eardrum. They then help even out pressure differences. Ventilation tubes cannot prevent ear barotrauma caused by diving.

Coping with ear barotrauma

If you are a diver, don’t dive again until your injury has fully healed. Diving again too soon can cause injury again. Your healthcare provider will tell you when it is safe for you to dive again. You should also not fly until your healthcare provider says it is OK.


When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if:

  • Your symptoms don’t get better

  • You have any new symptoms, such as dizziness, fever, or hearing loss