How to Recognize the Telltale Signs of Common Ear Dysfunction in Divers
If you have ever been scuba diving, you would notice that there are pressure differences between the areas of the body and the environment since you are underwater. As you dive deeper, the pressure increases which can cause a major concern among scuba divers.
What is Barotrauma?
Boyle’s Law, which states that the product of multiplication of pressure and volume remains a constant, can be applied to this disorder. As the pressure amplifies, the volume changes in gas-filled areas, which may lead to the distortion of the organs and damage to its surrounding tissues within the body. There are different kinds of Ear Barotrauma.
• External Ear Barotrauma or External Ear Squeeze. If the external ear canal is obstructed, the enclosed gas will be compressed resulting to the outward bulging of the eardrum. Consequently, the skin lining of the ear canal will have an evident swelling and bruising as well.
• Middle Ear Barotrauma of Descent or Aerotitis Media. This is the most common ear problem among scuba divers since the most vulnerable site during descent is the middle ear. The water pressure increases when descending and then transmitted to the body fluids and tissues surrounding the middle ear space causing the gas space to compress. When the diver feels this pressure, the diver voluntarily compensates to reduce the volume of gas by equalizing the ear. If the diver fails to equalize, the water pressure will only force the ear drums inwards, stretching it and turning the sensation to pain instead. However, even if the diver can balance his ears on the surface, it can still occur if the diving technique is incorrect.
• Inner Ear Barotrauma is less common than the middle ear squeeze. It occurs when a sudden pressure differences between the external and middle ear develop, usually from a very rapid descent.
What are the warning signs?
• A sensation of pressure is the first sign of injury to the ear. As the sensation escalates, it may develop into pain which is usually a severe, sharp and localized feeling to the affected side.
• When the diver continues to descend, the condition of the ear drum will worsen. A stir of relief followed by a cold feeling in the ear, resulting from the sea-water which enters the middle ear space and cools the bone and tissues near the balance organ.
• Vertigo, which is commonly known as dizziness, is usually felt when a diver experiences middle ear barotraumas. It can also be accompanied by nausea and vomiting, which can block the air supply and lead to aspiration of sea water that may result to drowning.
• If there’s a feeling of fullness in the ear or the sounds seem to be muffled, it can be a sign of a lesser degree of barotrauma.
• There can also be times when small amounts of blood comes from the nose, medically termed as epistaxis, which is due to the blood from the middle ear that is occasionally forced down the Eustachian tube when the middle ear gas expands on ascent.
• A squeaking sound, an echo sensation or tenderness over the mastoid area following the dive can also be felt due to ear barotrauma.
There are divers who have high pain tolerance, which are more susceptible to permanent damage because they might not notice the usual warning signs. Thus, always be careful and vigilant to this telltale signs to avoid extensive problems.