Middle Ear Barotrauma While Diving: Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

middle ear barotrauma
10 May 2018

Middle Ear Barotrauma While Diving: Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

It’s an amazing experience, but diving isn’t without its risks. Around 50% of divers have witnessed decompression problems. But the risks associated with water pressure are avoidable with just a little advanced knowledge. Ear barotrauma is a common pressure-related diving ailment. Below, we’re tackling the causes and symptoms of ear barotrauma.

What is Barotrauma?

Barotrauma is a general term for the problems caused by a diver’s nemesis: pressure changes. In this case, we’re talking about water pressure, but barotrauma can occur with changes in air pressure, too. In barotrauma of the ear, pressure differences cause problems with the workings of the Eustachian tubes. These tubes connect to your throat and nose and regulate the pressure of your middle ear.

Many people have experienced the feeling that makes you want to “pop” your ears. But severe cases of ear barotrauma can produce more dangerous symptoms. Ear barotrauma is more common for people suffering from conditions like a cold, which can causes blockages in the Eustachian tube. That stops your ear from balancing its pressure, creating suction on the eardrum.

Signs and Symptoms

Mild barotrauma of the ear leads to a stuffed feeling in your ears and muffled hearing. At this level, symptoms will likely clear on their own in a short space of time. More severe barotrauma might cause pain. Beyond that, symptoms include extreme pain, hearing loss, and dizziness. Blood from the ear may suggest a burst eardrum. When you can match these symptoms to a pressure change situation, you’re likely suffering from barotrauma.


The majority of ear barotrauma issues will go away on their own. Middle ear barotrauma recovery time is often a matter of weeks for mild cases. If your symptoms don’t disappear, you should tell your doctor. They’ll check you’re not suffering from complications. But the only treatment in most cases is to wait it out. When suffering from barotrauma symptoms, you should avoid diving to prevent making the issue worse. You should also be wary of any other situations that may cause pressure changes, like climbing or flying.


As the only real treatment for barotrauma is time, it’s better to prevent it occurring. Many prevention tips overlap with the common preparations for a dive. Divers can take several precautions to avoid barotrauma, including taking the time to equalize before a dive. Diving slowly and with your neck extended can help your body balance the pressure naturally. Moving your jaw and swallowing as though you’re eating can help to ease pressure in the Eustachian tubes. You should also avoid diving with a cold or other condition that might cause blockages in your tubes. If you fail to equalize properly, you should abandon the dive. Some divers will struggle more with equalizing due to narrow Eustachian tubes.

Understanding Ear Barotrauma

Understanding ear barotrauma is one of the best ways to deal with it. With a few preparations, you can avoid its most severe effects and enjoy your dive without risk. Want more diving advice? Make sure to follow our blog  and let us know if you want to do some local diving? We are always informing students about the latest developments.