Ear pressure, sometimes known as ear barotrauma or ear congestion, is an annoying sensation that most people experience at some point in their lives. This discomfort occurs from many common situations that create pressure in the ears. Fortunately, ear pressure is easily treatable and preventable.
Common Causes of Pressure in the Ears
When a pressure difference develops between the inside and outside of the eardrum, the individual can experience an uncomfortable sensation of pressure that could potentially damage the eardrum. It is essential to know how to prevent the common causes of ear pressure so you can avoid hearing loss, infection, and other potential medical complications.
The air pressure in the middle ear should be equivalent to the air pressure outside the body. A small tube called the Eustachian tube connects the middle ear to the back of the nose and throat, and this tube opens when yawning or swallowing to allow air into the middle air, regulating the pressure on both sides of the eardrum. If the Eustachian tube does not open or close correctly, this can cause ear barotrauma.
Physical pressure changes in one’s external environment are the most common causes of ear barotrauma. Some examples include:
Scuba diving. The pressure exerted at lower depths is greater than the pressure felt at shallower depths, and sudden underwater pressure changes can cause barotrauma.
Air travel. Carrying chewing gum during an airplane ride is a common practice in the U.S. Air pressure changes can cause ear barotrauma during takeoff and landing, and chewing gum can help flex the Eustachian tube to prevent pressure irregularities.
High elevations. Visiting family in the mountains? You may start to experience sensations of air pressure as you travel higher above sea level. The air is thinner at higher elevations, and it can take time for your body to adjust to it.
Illness. Some sicknesses such as sinus infections, the flu, upper respiratory infections, or the common cold can cause congestion and fluid buildup that leads to ear barotrauma.
While ear pressure is treatable, it is best to attempt to avoid ear barotrauma however you can when performing activities that pose a risk of pressure imbalances in your ears.
How to Prevent Ear Pressure Discomfort
There are many ways to prevent discomfort and pain from ear barotrauma. If you plan to partake in any activities like mountain climbing or scuba diving that could entail ear pressure irregularities, pay close attention to your instructors and guides, and follow their instructions carefully. This is especially true for scuba diving; failing to follow instructions could have serious consequences.
When it comes to air travel, chewing gum can help exercise your Eustachian tube and regulate the pressure in your ears. Most people who experience ear barotrauma while flying generally report the most discomfort during takeoff and landing when the elevation change is most perceptible. Ultimately, everyone must find their own method for preventing ear barotrauma while flying.
If you develop ear barotrauma from an illness, taking a nasal decongestant can relieve the pressure in your sinus cavities and make blowing your nose easier. Blowing your nose is a good way to open your Eustachian tube and relieve pressure, but some illnesses can make this difficult.
Anyone who experiences severe ear pain should consult with a physician as soon as possible. Some people have structural abnormalities in the ears that may leave them more susceptible to ear barotrauma, and an ear, nose, and throat doctor can recommend appropriate preventative measures and treatments in these cases.