Journal of Laryngology & Otology

(RF) Otorhinolaryngology

Otic barotrauma from air travel

Mirza FRCS(ORL) a1 and Richardson FRCS(ORL) a1
a1 Department of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery, North Riding Infirmary, Middlesbrough, UK.

Article author query
mirza s   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
richardson h   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 


Otic barotrauma occuring during air travel involves traumatic inflammation of the middle ear, caused by a pressure difference between the air in the middle ear and the external atmosphere, developing after ascent or more usually descent. The pressure difference occurs because of failure of the eustachian tube to equilibrate middle ear and atmospheric pressures. It is a common problem, presenting with ear fullness, otalgia and deafness. Severe cases may result in tympanic membrane perforation and even round window membrane rupture. Of three randomized controlled trials, one showed that oral pseudoephedrine decongestants reduced otalgia inadults with recurrent ear pain during air travel, whilst another found that oral pseudoephedrine did not decrease in-flight ear pain in children. The third trial showed that oxymetazoline decongestant nasal spray, taken 30 minutes before descent, did not produce a statistically significant reduction in symptoms of barotrauma in adults with recurrent ear pain during air travel. We review the causes, prevention and treatment of this condition.

Key Words: Barotrauma; Altitude; Middle Ear; Eustachian Tube.