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Injury to air-containing structures, such as the middle ears, sinuses, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract, due to unequal pressure differences across their walls.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



injury to the ear (less commonly to other organs containing air or gas, such as the lungs and intestines), arising from a sharp change in atmospheric pressure. The tympanic membrane can tolerate even a marked increase in pressure if it occurs slowly, in which case pressure on both sides of the tympanic membrane (on the side of the external auditory meatus and on the side of the tympanic cavity) is equalized through the eustachian tube. In cases of sharp changes (drops) in pressure, for example, in rapid ascents and descents of an airplane, the pressure can be equalized by swallowing (which is why hard candy is given out on an airplane). If the pressure cannot be equalized, the tympanic membrane is sucked in and the pressure is transmitted through the chain of auditory ossicles to the inner ear. At first, a barotrauma is felt as pain in the ear, then hearing is impaired; subsequently, there is noise in the ears and sometimes vertigo. If the drop in pressure is extreme, the tympanic membrane may rupture. Barotrauma occurs in fliers (when diving), parachute jumpers, and divers. Prevention consists in screening persons with clear eustachian tubes for the particular occupations and special training in a pressure chamber.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


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One example of barotruauma is otitic barotrauma. During ascent, higher pressure in the ear gets equalized. However, during descent, the air from outside is not able to equalize unless there is some action like chewing, swallowing, and valsava maneuver. The situation gets aggravated in case of sinus congestion in which there may not only be pain in the ears during descent but physical injury to the ears.
An injury caused by expansion or contraction of trapped gases in the body resulting from changes in pressure. It can lead to pain in the ears otitic barotrauma, the sinuses sinus barotrauma, and the intestines.
An Illustrated Dictionary of Aviation Copyright © 2005 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved