Barotrauma - What it means to you

May 2021


The modern ocean going fleet is designed to operate at full capacity continuously, in all weather conditions and all sea states. This is leading to an increase in the incidence of barotrauma, with consequent challenges for human resource management.

This article discusses barotrauma as a serious risk factor for offshore workers, including background information on medical issues associated with decompression sickness and how barotrauma may be the underlying cause of an employee’s illness or injury. It also provides data concerning the incidence of barotrauma as a result of vessel operations and discusses more analytical measures that are being considered by international bodies involved in maritime safety and ship design.

There is an increasing need for the offshore oil & gas production industry to improve the safety of its workforce in order to ensure that injury and illness are minimised.

The article discusses terminology used in the industry and then gives data from international studies relating to barotrauma of divers, indicating that, despite efforts by marine safety organisations to improve diver awareness of decompression disorders, this has not been translated into effective treatment. It also discusses reported cases of barotrauma as a result of onshore petroleum industry operations and presents data from one study concerning the incidence and causes of barotrauma during ship operations.

Barotrauma is a rare disorder that occurs when the pressure inside of an individual's middle ear increases rapidly from either deep-sea diving, air travel, or ascending to high altitude. The pressure change causes the tympanic membrane (eardrum) to be damaged and can result in perforation of the eardrum with discharge from the ear canal.

This article talks about some treatments for barotrauma and how it feels, as well as what other symptoms you might experience alongside it. Barotrauma is a disorder caused by rapid pressure changes on the eardrum, ear canal and inner ear. There are three main types of eardrum perforation.

Closed Eustachian tube- Usually an air gap forms between the middle ear and the back of the throat during swallowing or yawning, which helps equalize air pressure between the inside and outside of the body. If this gap is closed, a sudden decrease in air pressure within the middle ear could result in barotrauma. In rare cases, a closed eustachian tube can be caused by trauma on the ear. This could result in incomplete closing of the eustachian tube.

Open Eustachian tube- In this type of barotrauma, air that is swallowed, yawned or breathed into the middle ear will pass through an open Eustachian tube and get trapped there. Over a long period of time, this pressure buildup can damage the wall of the Eustachian tube and cause it to swell up to several times its normal size.

Barotrauma is very similar to Otitis Media (middle ear infection) but very different from tympanostomy tubes (ear tubes). There are many causes of Barotrauma and a variety of treatment options. However, in most cases the patient must find the cause and correct it before any treatment can begin. In some cases, antibiotics will help reduce the pain and inflammation caused by the disorder. Of course, you should let your doctor know if you've been suffering from ear infections for a long time as this could be a sign that you have an underlying disease that needs to be addressed. A dentist may be able to fix your eardrum if it is perforated. This could also prevent future damage to your middle ear hairs, which might lead to infection or earwax buildup in the others and would have to be removed by surgery.

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