INTRODUCTION || WHAT IS EAR BAROTRAUMA || SYMPTOMS OF EAR BAROTRAUMA || PREVENTION OF EAR BAROTRAUMA IN THE FLIGHT
Almost 0.1% of the entire world population board a flight every single day, which is a statistic of 6 million people in total.
The numbers are huge, and so are the people with ear barotrauma.
Ear barotrauma is ear damage caused by pressure differences between the middle ear and the outer ear.
Ear Barotrauma is NOT JUST a condition of mere discomfort in your ear; it can cause hearing loss and excruciating pain, which can turn your fun-filled journey in flight into an absolute nightmare.
Like we know that our ear has three parts—
1) Outer ear,
2) Middle ear, and
3) Inner ear.
The outer ear is an external cavity that protrudes outwards from our face and is therefore exposed to the outside environment, thus linking the outside environment to the inner portions of the ear.
A part of the middle ear called the Eustachian tube connects the middle ear to the nose and the throat. The function and patency of this Eustachian tube are absolutely necessary for the maintenance of pressure outside and inside the middle ear cavity.
In further simple language ……..
The eardrum acts as a partition between the middle ear and the external ear. And you should understand that there is air present inside the external ear canal as well as in the middle ear. So, if there is air present on either side of the ear drum, then apparently, there is an air pressure developed on either side that is ought to be balanced. This function is done by the Eustachian tube of the ear.
WHAT IS EAR BAROTRAUMA?
The nature that is naturally built in the human body is such that —-
- the air pressure is normal at the ground level,
- maximum at the sea level (that is, below the ground level), and
- minimum at higher altitudes (that is, above the ground level).
And another natural and scientific phenomenon that we live in is that air moves from a high-pressure area to a low-pressure area until the air pressure on both sides is balanced and is at a state of equilibrium.
Likewise, in the case of an ear, the air pressure occurs in 2 different areas—
- the outside environment and
- the middle ear.
As mentioned earlier, air pressure is balanced by the movement of air from high pressure to a low-pressure area, so in the case of an ear, the Eustachian tube acts as a passage that allows such a movement of air outside and inside the ear to maintain optimum pressure.
So, when we board a flight, the air pressure in the airplane suddenly drops as it moves to higher altitudes, whereas the air pressure in your ear is that of the ground level, which is comparatively more.
Thus at this altitude, air tends to move from the middle ear (high pressure) to the outside environment (low pressure) through the expansion of the Eustachian tube. But in some people, due to sudden changes in the altitude, it gets difficult for the Eustachian tube to expand and let out that much air at a time, which is when you face some sort of pain, or discomfort, and a pop sound is heard. This experience is called Ear Barotrauma.
SYMPTOMS OF EAR BAROTRAUMA:-
1) EAR PAIN (which can range from mild to severe in intensity)
2) Feeling of discomfort in the ear
4) Difficulty in hearing
5) Feeling of blockage in the ear
6) A pop sound is heard while the flight takes off.
7) Sensation of fullness in the ear
PREVENTION OF EAR BAROTRAUMA IN THE FLIGHT
Ear Barotrauma is a condition that can occur in both children and adults.
Though it is difficult to help in the case of children since they have a very narrow, straight, and delicate Eustachian tube, it can be prevented to a large extent in the case of adults.
Some of these preventive measures are —
Yawning will take in some amount of air into your mouth that will, in turn, exert a force
on your middle ear and leads to the expansion of the Eustachian tube than normal.
This will allow easy passage of air and thus prevent ear barotrauma.
2) CHEWING and SWALLOWING:
The exercise of chewing and swallowing will relax the muscles around your ear and the Eustachian tube by which the Eustachian tube can expand easily. For example, you can just pop a candy or chewing gum in the mouth and keep chewing and swallowing its juice.
This will let a large amount of air pass through and balance the air pressure on either side of the eardrum.
3) BREATHING EXERCISES:
Practicing breathing exercises every day will increase your lung capacity, as well as the Eustachian tube passage gets cleared.
All of the above-mentioned methods can be effective when you are facing only ear barotrauma. However, If otherwise the ear barotrauma is assisted by any kind of infection like cold, flu, etc, then the preventive measures are altered.
In such a case, along with the above-mentioned exercises, you will have to go to a doctor’s
The cold, flu, allergy, or any kind of infection will cause ear barotrauma even more. This is
because the conditions such as cold, flu, nose and throat allergy/infection will increase the blockage of the Eustachian tube, which will not be relieved by yawning, chewing/swallowing, or breathing exercises.
Thus, when you go for a doctor’s help, he might recommend—
— Antibiotics and pain killers for adults
— Decongestants and ear drops for adults
— Anti-allergic tablets for your allergy that has caused the infection
— Antibiotics for cold and flu
Other basic preventive measures are—
— Avoid wearing earphones
— Stay awake while the flight takes off and also before it lands.
— Make sure that you breastfeed or bottle feed your child while they are awake and are made to sit in a straight and upright position.
— Provide them candy if they are above 3 years old.
— Clean the excess ear wax regularly as that can also cause blockage of the ear.
OTHER CAUSES OF EAR BAROTRAUMA OTHER THAN TRAVELLING IN AN AEROPLANE-
- SCUBA DIVING
- SLAP ON EAR
- PASSIONATE KISS ON THE EAR
If ear barotrauma is neglected, it can lead to adverse effects like hearing loss, vertigo, damage to the eardrum, bleeding ears, and so on. This will grow into a chronic or repetitive condition which is when you will have to go for surgery wherein tympanostomy tubes or ear tubes are inserted into the eardrum to allow easy passage of air and thus balance the air pressure across the ear.
So, it is always better if you see the doctor at the earliest. Better late than never, take the necessary precautions to prevent ear barotrauma.
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