Ear barotrauma


Ear barotrauma, also known as airplane ear, occurs when there is an imbalance in air pressure between the middle ear and the surrounding environment, leading to potential damage. This condition commonly arises during airplane travel when the aircraft ascends after takeoff or descends for landing.

To alleviate symptoms of airplane ear, simple self-care measures can be taken. Actions like yawning, swallowing, or chewing gum can help equalize the air pressure and relieve discomfort. These steps are usually effective in managing mild cases. However, if the symptoms of airplane ear are severe, it is advisable to seek medical attention from a doctor.


Airplane ear can affect one or both ears. Typical indications and symptoms include:

  • Moderate discomfort or pain in the ear
  • Sensation of fullness or blockage in the ear
  • Hearing sounds muffled or experiencing mild to moderate hearing loss.
  • Moderate to severe hearing impairment
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ear)
  • Vertigo (spinning sensation)
  • Bleeding from the ear

If the sensations of discomfort, fullness, or muffled hearing persist for more than a few days, or if you experience severe signs or symptoms, it is advisable to contact your doctor.


Ear barotrauma occurs when there is a sudden change in air or water pressure, causing pressure to be exerted on the eustachian tubes. These tubes connect the back of the middle ear to the back of the throat and play a role in equalizing air pressure on both sides of the eardrum by allowing outside air to enter the middle ear.

Air pressure changes occur rapidly during airplane takeoff and landing, surpassing the ability of the eustachian tubes to adjust accordingly. Similarly, deep-water diving can lead to rapid changes in water pressure, resulting in the same problem. If you have congestion due to a cold or allergies, the risk of experiencing ear barotrauma increases. Congestion can block or inflame the eustachian tubes, making it even more difficult for them to manage the changes in air pressure.

Risk factors

Airplane ear can be more likely to occur when certain conditions obstruct or impair the function of the eustachian tube. Several common risk factors include:

  • Small eustachian tube: Infants and toddlers, in particular, may have narrower eustachian tubes, which can make them more susceptible to airplane ear.
  • The common cold: Having a cold can lead to congestion and inflammation of the nasal passages and eustachian tubes, making it harder for air to equalize and increasing the risk of airplane ear.
  • Sinus infection: Infections in the sinuses can cause nasal congestion and inflammation, affecting the eustachian tube’s ability to equalize pressure during air travel.
  • Hay fever (allergic rhinitis): Allergic reactions, such as hay fever, can cause nasal congestion and swelling, which can interfere with proper eustachian tube function.
  • Middle ear infection (otitis media): An ongoing or recent middle ear infection can disrupt the normal functioning of the eustachian tube and make airplane ear more likely.
  • Sleeping on an airplane during ascent and descent: If you are asleep during takeoff or landing, you may not actively perform actions like yawning or swallowing, which help equalize pressure in the ears. This can increase the risk of experiencing airplane ear symptoms.