Interestingly enough, the most common scuba diving injury is not decompression – it’s actually ear barotraumas. This refers to injuries that occur because of changes in ear pressure.
Baro, means pressure + trauma = injury.
Scuba Diving And Its Effects On Ear Pressure
An ear barotrauma occurs when a diver has failed to equalize the ear pressure in the ears with the pressure of the water. This could occur for a variety of reasons, but a couple of common reasons include improper equalization or congestion.
Outer And Middle Ear Barotraumas
Both middle and outer ear barotraumas can occur when diving. Middle ear barotraumas, however, are the most common.
In the case of an outer ear barotrauma, normally the diver’s outer ear will experience the same water pressure given that it’s open. However, with an outer ear barotrauma, an object has essentially blocked the air in the outer ear, which causes additional pressure.
This could be due to wearing non custom ear plugs, a wax blockage, wearing very tight-fitted hoods or because of body growths.
In the case of middle ear barotraumas, it’s important to understand a little bit about the anatomy of the ear. First of all, the ear is made up of three parts: the outside ear as well as both the middle ear and the inner ear. In the middle ear, the eustachian tubes (one in each ear) are responsible for keeping the ears “equalized” – in other words, ensuring that the ear pressure on both sides is the same. However, these tubes are surrounded by cartilaginous tissue, which doesn’t expand.
That’s why divers have to equalize their ears via air. This gently opens up the Eustachian tubes.
So, if a diver cannot properly equalize his or her ear pressure with the water pressure, a middle ear barotrauma can result. This can occur both during descent, when a vacuuming occurs in the middle of the ear; essentially, this causes a sucking of the eardrum, tissues and eustachian tubes.
Middle ear barotraumas can also occur upon ascent; in this case, a failure to equalize again causes a lot of pressure to build up, causing the outer eardrum to swell.
Middle ear barotraumas can also be caused when the eustachian tubes are blocked due to swelling or congestion. This is why it is always advised that you should not scuba dive when you are ill.
If you are in search of high quality, custom ear plugs, to protect your ears during scuba diving, House of Hearing Clinic can help. House of Hearing Clinic is a prominent hearing clinic in the Toronto region offering quality care from highly trained audiologists. Book your appointment today here.