It is not unusual to get the feeling of pressure in the ear. Most of the time after a dive in the pool or in the strong winds, there is a moment where it feels like the ear is packed with air. This is common and most of us have experience similar conditions. A mild pressure will rarely cause pain. In medical terms this is termed as ear barotrauma. And to define this in a more definitive way, barotrauma is the pain and discomfort that is caused due to the unequal pressure of air in the ear.
This can affect the inner, outer or middle ear. When the pressure differs from the pressure of air that is inside the body to that which is outside, it causes damage to the ear tissues and pressure is applied on the eardrum. This may cause the feeling of a sort of vacuum in the ear for some time, it can sometimes cause pain. Let us know more about ear barotrauma in order to understand the treatment options well.
The eardrum is connected to the back of the nose and the upper throat by a tube, which is called the eustachian tube. When we yawn or swallow, this tube is opened that allows the air to pass in the middle ear. This mechanism keeps the air pressure balanced. That is the atmospheric pressure on the eardrum outside remains the same as inside, through the eustachian tube. When the pressure gets imbalanced on either sides of the middle ear, the eardrum will bulge accordingly in the same direction. It may bulge outside or retract inside. This happens when the eustachian tube is blocked, and the tissues and eardrum are not able to vibrate in a proper way. This creates the plugged and blocked feeling in the ear.
Causes and Symptoms
The major cause is the eustachian tube getting blocked. This can happen due to various factors like, change in altitude, sky diving, flying and other similar activities. Driving in high altitudes and windy exposures can also cause the imbalance in the pressure. Swimming and any other rapidly descending activity can cause air pressure to change on either side. A fall or slap can also cause this congestion. Congestion of the eustachian tube can also happen due to runny nose, cold and allergies, any infections in the upper respiratory system, that cause the swelling of the membranes. Swollen throat and congenital issues can also block the tube.
The symptoms will be a typical blocked ear, pain and discomfort may also be experienced. Very faint loss of hearing, along with a stuffed or a water packed feeling in the ear can also be experienced. More serious issues can lead to symptoms like severe ear pain and moderate hearing loss.
The treatment of this disorder is simple in most of the cases. The treatment will also completely depend on the severity of the issue.
- The most common treatment for this is prevention. Avoiding and taking care during activities that can imbalance the ear pressure will be helpful. Stay away from excess air pressure or water pressure till the existing conditions improve.
- Well, at times when you have to fly, there are options like sucking on candy or chewing gum when the plane is about to descend.
- Some other tips to cure a ear barotrauma is to yawn deeply. You can also inhale and then close your nostrils and mouth and try to exhale, this will put pressure on the ear and can open up the blockage and pressure on the ear.
- There are certain medications too, that can be prescribed if the home treatments are not giving you relief.
- The most common is the decongestant treatment that the doctor will prescribe. These can be in the form of mouth spray or nasal sprays. Antihistamines and steroids are also advised, to relieve the pressure on the eustachian tube due to infection and other internal causes. Antibiotics will only be prescribed when there is an infection in the ear or possibilities of infection.
- In severe cases, where these primary treatments are not effective, a surgery may be advised for relieving the blocked tube and pressure. This is known as myringotomy. Here the doctor will drain out the fluid in the ear and also balance the air pressure by making an incision in the eardrum.
- During such complications the doctor will advise complete avoidance of certain activities that cause ear barotrauma. He may also advise a surgical placement of tubes in the eardrum, in case if you cannot avoid flying and others that can cause the pressure to imbalance again.
- One must understand that this is not a severe issue and surgery will rarely be required. In most of the cases self help and prevention helps to cure this issue.
For divers who cannot avoid their activities, they should take care when diving and of the ascend and descend speed. Those who are severely down with ear barotrauma, these activities should strictly be avoided.
The treatment is simple, with certain self help tips, you can easily get over the feeling of a plugged ear. Do not worry in such cases, follow the prevention guidelines and you are good to hear!