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Air in the ear: symptoms, causes and prevention

by Alivia Nyhan
Published: Last Updated on

Feeling like you have air in your ear can cause a lot of discomforts, but it is more common than you might imagine since most people have noticed that their ears get plugged at some time, especially when traveling by plane, climbing mountains, or they go diving. This medical problem is known as ear barotrauma.

Barotrauma is caused by sudden pressure changes in the air and can be painful. To understand how it is produced, we must first know how our hearing works and, therefore, at FastlyHealwe invite you to read this article in which we will explain everything about the air in the ear: symptoms and how to remove it.

Ear barotrauma: what it is and causes

Each ear is divided into three parts: outer, middle, and inner ear. We find a tubular-shaped structure in the central part that connects the inner ear with the throat and nose, called the Eustachian tube. This has the function of equalizing the pressure of the ear with the atmosphere.

When pressures change, such as during driving or taking off an airplane, it is normal for air to move through the Eustachian tube to balance these air pressures. Suppose the change is very rapid or obstructed the canal due to a cold, sinusitis, or otitis. In that case, the air does not reach the middle ear, and the pressure decreases, causing the tympanic membrane (a disc-shaped structure that separates the outer part of the ear from the middle ear) to bulge inward. This difference in pressure causes pain and can end up injuring the eardrum.

Ear barotrauma is the pain or plugging sensation you feel from the injury to the tympanic membrane caused by these sudden changes in air pressure.

How to know if I have air in my ear: symptoms

If you have barotrauma of the ear, the symptoms that you may present are the following:

  • Mild decrease in hearing ( hearing loss ).
  • Earache.
  • The sensation of having the ears plugged or air inside.
  • Noticing buzzing or whistling inside the ear.

In some cases, the ear canal may remain blocked for longer, or the air pressure may increase sharply, causing more severe symptoms such as:

  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • The tremendous increase in hearing pressure.
  • Nasal bleeding.
  • Hearing loss.
  • Tympanic membrane injury.
  • Severe earache

If the pressure difference continues to increase, the middle ear can be filled with a clear liquid called perilymph, coming from the inner part of the ear to balance the pressures. When these symptoms occur during diving, it is indicative that the fluid has escaped causing a perilymphatic fistula (rupture of the membrane that separates the middle from the inner ear). Contrary to the situation of mountaineers, who are at high altitudes and what is formed is an air bubble inside the middle ear.

If the injury occurs in the inner ear, the hearing loss is more significant. It can often be irreversible, unlike injuries to the middle ear, where hearing loss is generally temporary.

How to get the air out of the ear

Some of the maneuvers that you can do to get the air out of the ear if you are in a plane that is going to take off are:

  • Chew gum.
  • Swallowing saliva or drinking fluids.
  • Suck on candy.
  • Yawn.
  • Breathe with your mouth open.

Otherwise, that is, if the outside pressure increases as when the plane lands or you practice diving, you must:

  • Keep your mouth closed, cover your nose with your fingers simulating a clamp and try to blow gently through the nose. With this maneuver, you will be able to push the air through the blocked ear canal.

When a catarrhal process or allergies cause the sensation of air in the ear, it is recommended to treat them first with nasal decongestants or antihistamines to solve the problem.

Treatment of ear barotrauma generally does not require medical intervention except in severe cases with a tympanic lesion, perilymphatic fistula, ear infection, or severe pain. In these situations, you should see a doctor immediately.

How to prevent ear barotrauma

There are several ways to avoid the sensation of having air in the ear. Here are some tips to prevent it:

  • If you suffer from a cold, sinusitis, or allergies, take allergy medications or apply nasal decongestant 30 to 60 minutes before your flight or diving to help unblock your ear canal.
  • You can use special earplugs to travel by plane. They reduce pressure changes and allow the ear to adjust to variations gradually.
  • In the case of scuba diving, you should avoid the sudden ascent and descent.
  • If you have nasal congestion, it is not recommended to expose yourself to pressure changes.

Children are more susceptible to this condition because their Eustachian tube is smaller and cannot balance air pressures quickly. To help your children prevent ear barotrauma when traveling by plane, try feeding them, drinking fluids, or using a pacifier when the pressure change (takeoff or landing).

This article is merely informative. At FastlyHeal .com, we do not have the power to prescribe medical treatments or make any diagnosis. We invite you to see a doctor if you present any condition or discomfort.

If you want to read more articles similar to Air in the ear: symptoms and how to remove it, we recommend that you enter our category of Ear, nose, and throat.

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