Air Travel and Barotrauma
What is barotrauma?
Our ear is divided into 3 parts, Outer, middle and inner ear. The air pressure in Middle ear is maintained equal to the atmospheric pressure by a tube(called Eustachian Tube), running from middle ear to throat.
In air travel, during ascent, while diving and in compression chambers, because of increasing air pressure, Eustachian Tube is locked. It can not convey air into the middle ear and so pressure in middle ear decreases.
Because of this Negative pressure inside Middle ear, fluids are secreated inside it, which may lead to rupture of ear drum. (This phenomenon is called barotrauma, because the cause of injury is change in air pressure)
The common symptoms of this condition are Pain in ear, sensation of fullness and Deafness.
Prevention of barotrauma during Air travel
- Avoid air travel when suffering from severe cold or running nose due to allergy becuase the Eustachian Tube is already partially or fully blocked in those conditions. If cold is severe but air travel is also essential then take decongestant tablets/ nasal drops 1 hour before departure of flight, after consulting your doctor.
- Periodic chewing of chewing gum, particularly during landing and takeoff. The swallowing movements of the jaw, actively open the Eustachian Canal and so airway from throat to middle ear is maintained.
- Valsulva maneuver:
- Close the nose with finger and thumb.
- Close mouth and attempt to exhale breath. This will cause a ‘pop’ sound in ears (due to air trying to escape through ear and hitting the ear drum.) This maneuver actively opens the closed Eustachian canal.
- Repeat the above 2 steps periodically during air travel, particularly during takeoff and landing.
- Do not sleep during takeoff and landing because frequency of swallowing is very less during sleep.
Dr. Vijay Chouradia, MS (E.N.T.)
Ear Nose and Throat Surgeon
Micro-Surgery Specialist (Mumbai)
UG-08, Royal View, Off Meghdoot Garden
Scheme No. 54, Vijaynagar
Phone: (0731) 2550044
Dr. Pankaj Tripathi