Most people are familiar with that popping sensation in their ears when they drive up to Mount Si too quickly, fly on a plane or go for a scuba diving lesson.
Rapid changes in elevation or depth can cause discomfort, similar to a feeling of fullness or a popping sensation in the ears. This is known as ear barotrauma. Ear barotrauma happens when there is an imbalance of pressure between the environment around you and the middle ear. To understand ear barotrauma better, let’s explore the ear’s anatomy.
Anatomy of the Ear
Inside the ear, there are Eustachian tubes that help regulate pressure and drain fluid. When the environment changes suddenly, these tubes may struggle to equalize the pressure, leading to ear barotrauma. When experiencing ear barotrauma, symptoms may include pain, a popping sensation, fullness or stuffiness in the ears and temporary hearing loss.
While most cases are mild, severe cases can result in symptoms like tinnitus, severe hearing loss, intense pain, vertigo and bleeding from the ear.
Why Does Ear Barotrauma Affect Hearing?
In cases of severe ear barotrauma, the eardrum can rupture and cause bleeding or fluid leakage from the ear. A ruptured eardrum can result in temporary or permanent hearing loss, depending on the severity of the rupture.
Because the lasting effects of ear barotrauma can have a massive impact on your hearing health, it is crucial to practice preventative methods to care for your ear health.
Caring for Your Ears
To prevent severe barotrauma, it’s important to equalize pressure. Two effective methods for equalizing pressure are the Valsalva maneuver (plugging nostrils, closing mouth and gently blowing) and swallowing or yawning. Both methods engage the muscles in your jaw and ears that open the Eustachian tube, allowing them to better equalize pressure.
Chewing gum or sucking on a lollipop or other hard candy during rapid ascents and descents are effective ways to promote swallowing and allow your Eustachian tubes to equalize pressure, therefore preventing barotrauma from becoming severe.
What To Do if Hearing Loss Has Occurred?
If you are experiencing permanent hearing loss as a result of severe ear barotrauma, there are a couple of treatment options available to you. While permanent hearing loss cannot be cured, it can be managed with hearing aids, counseling and more.
Hearing aids can massively improve your experience with hearing loss. The small but powerful devices collect and amplify speech sounds while reducing irrelevant background noise to improve your understanding of the world around you.
For more information on protecting your ear health and managing hearing loss, contact Evergreen Speech and Hearing Clinic to schedule an appointment with our specialists.