Barotrauma, otitic & Barotrauma, sinus
Classification and external resources
ICD-10 T70.0, T70.1
ICD-9 993.0, 993.1
DiseasesDB 3491
eMedicine emerg/53
MeSH D001469

Barotrauma is physical damage to body tissues caused by a difference in pressure between an air space inside or beside the body and the surrounding fluid.[1][2] In addition to humans, and in contrast with Avian lungs, bats suffer fatal barotrauma around wind farms.[3]

Barotrauma typically occurs to air spaces within a body when that body moves to or from a higher pressure environment, such as when a SCUBA diver, a free-diving diver or an airplane passenger ascends or descends, or during uncontrolled decompression of a pressure vessel. Boyle's law defines the relationship between the volume of the air space and the ambient pressure.

Damage occurs in the tissues around the body's air spaces because gases are compressible and the tissues are not. During increases in ambient pressure, the internal air space provides the surrounding tissues with little support to resist the higher external pressure. During decreases in ambient pressure, the higher pressure of the gas inside the air spaces causes damage to the surrounding tissues if that gas becomes trapped.


Types of injury

Examples of organs or tissues easily damaged by barotrauma are:

Diving barotrauma

Ear barotrauma

Barotrauma can affect the external, middle, or inner ear. Middle ear barotrauma (MEBT) is the most common being experienced by between 10% and 30% of divers and is due to insufficient equilibration of the middle ear. External ear barotrauma may occur on ascent if high pressure air is trapped in the external auditory canal either by tight fitting SCUBA equipment or ear wax. Inner ear barotrauma (IEBT) though much less common than MEBT shares a similar mechanism. Mechanical trauma to the inner ear can lead to varying degrees of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss as well as vertigo.[20]


The sinuses similar to other air filled cavities are susceptible to barotrauma if their openings become obstructed. This can result in pain as well as epistaxis.[21]

Mask squeeze

If a diver's mask is not equalized during descent the relative negative pressure can produce petechial hemorrhages in the area covered by the mask along with subconjunctival hemorrhages.[21]

Pulmonary barotrauma

Pulmonary (lung) pressure damage in scuba divers is usually caused by breath-holding on ascent. The compressed gas in the lungs expands as the ambient pressure decreases causing the lungs to over expand and rupture unless the diver breathes out. The lungs do not sense pain when over-expanded giving the diver little warning to prevent the injury. This does not affect breath-hold skin divers as they bring a lungfull of air with them from the surface, which merely re-expands safely to near its original volume on ascent. The problem only arises if a breath of compressed gas is taken at depth, which will then expand on ascent to more than the lung volume. Pulmonary barotrauma may also be caused by explosive decompression of a pressurised aircraft.


When diving, the pressure differences needed to cause the barotrauma come from two sources:

  • descending and ascending in water. There are two components to the surrounding pressure acting on the diver: the atmospheric pressure and the water pressure. A descent of 10 metres (33 feet) in water increases the ambient pressure by approximately the pressure of the atmosphere at sea level. So, a descent from the surface to 10 metres (33 feet) underwater results in a doubling of the pressure on the diver.
  • breathing gas at depth from SCUBA equipment results in the lungs containing gas at a higher pressure than atmospheric pressure. So a free-diving diver can dive to 10 metres (33 feet) and safely ascend without exhaling, because the gas in the lungs had been inhaled at atmospheric pressure, whereas a SCUBA diver who breathes at 10 metres and ascends without exhaling has lungs containing gas at twice atmospheric pressure and is very likely to suffer life-threatening lung damage.

Avoidance and treatment

Diving barotrauma can be avoided by eliminating any pressure differences acting on the tissue or organ by equalizing the pressure. There are a variety of techniques:

  • The air spaces in the ears, and the sinuses. The risk is burst eardrum. Here, the diver can use a variety of methods, to let air into the middle ears via the Eustachian tubes. Sometimes swallowing will open the Eustachian tubes and equalise the ears.
  • The lungs. The risk includes pneumothorax, arterial gas embolism, and mediastinal and subcutanous emphysemas. which are commonly called burst lung or lung overpressure injury by divers. To equalise, all that is necessary is not to hold the breath during ascent. This risk does not arise when snorkel diving from the surface, unless the snorkeller breathes from a high pressure gas source underwater, or from submerged air pockets. Some people have pathologies of the lung which prevent rapid flow of excess air though the passages, which can lead to lung barotrauma even if the breath is not held during rapid depressurisation. These people should not dive as the risk is unacceptably high. Most commercial or military diving medical examinations will look specifically for signs of this pathology.[citation needed]
  • The air inside the usual eyes-and-nose diving mask (also known as a half mask). The main risk is bleeding around the eyes from the negative pressure[10] or orbital emphysema from higher pressures.[22] Here, let air into the mask through the nose. Do not dive in eyes-only goggles as sometimes seen on land with industrial breathing sets.
  • Air spaces inside a dry suit. The main risk is folds of skin getting pinched inside folds of the drysuit. Most modern drysuits have a tube connection to feed air in from the cylinder. Air must be injected on the descent and vented on the ascent.

Following barotrauma of the ears or lungs from diving the diver should not dive again until thoroughly cleared by a doctor, which can take many months. [23]

Use of a hyperbaric chamber. Patients undergoing hyperbaric oxygen therapy must learn to equalize in order to avoid barotrauma.[24] Some patients may be at greater risk of otic barotrauma than others.[24]

Blast induced barotrauma

An explosive blast and explosive decompression create a pressure wave that can induce barotrauma. The difference in pressure between internal organs and the outer surface of the body causes injuries to internal organs that contain gas, such as the lungs, gastrointestinal tract, and ear.[25]

Lung injuries can also occur during rapid decompression, although the risk of injury is lower than with explosive decompression.[26][27]

Ventilator induced barotrauma

Mechanical ventilation can lead to barotrauma of the lungs. This can be due to either:

  • absolute pressures used in order to ventilate non-compliant lungs.
  • shearing forces, particularly associated with rapid changes in gas velocity.

The resultant alveolar rupture can lead to pneumothorax, pulmonary interstitial emphysema (PIE) and pneumomediastinum.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f US Navy Diving Manual, 6th revision. United States: US Naval Sea Systems Command. 2006. Retrieved 2008-05-26. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Brubakk, A. O.; T. S. Neuman (2003). Bennett and Elliott's physiology and medicine of diving, 5th Rev ed.. United States: Saunders Ltd.. pp. 800. ISBN 0702025712. 
  3. ^ The Times, 26 August 2008, Wind farms cause thousands of bats to die from trauma
  4. ^ Richard O. Reinhart (1996). Basic Flight Physiology. McGraw-Hill Professional. ISBN 0070522235. Retrieved 2008-09-01. 
  5. ^ a b Fitzpatrick DT, Franck BA, Mason KT, Shannon SG (1999). "Risk factors for symptomatic otic and sinus barotrauma in a multiplace hyperbaric chamber". Undersea Hyperb Med 26 (4): 243–7. PMID 10642071. Retrieved 2008-05-23. 
  6. ^ Fiesseler FW, Silverman ME, Riggs RL, Szucs PA (2006). "Indication for hyperbaric oxygen treatment as a predictor of tympanostomy tube placement". Undersea Hyperb Med 33 (4): 231–5. PMID 17004409. Retrieved 2008-05-23. 
  7. ^ Klokker M, Vesterhauge S, Jansen EC (November 2005). "Pressure-equalizing earplugs do not prevent barotrauma on descent from 8000 ft cabin altitude". Aviat Space Environ Med 76 (11): 1079–82. PMID 16313146. Retrieved 2008-06-05. 
  8. ^ Broome JR, Smith DJ (November 1992). "Pneumothorax as a complication of recompression therapy for cerebral arterial gas embolism". Undersea Biomed Res 19 (6): 447–55. PMID 1304671. Retrieved 2008-05-23. 
  9. ^ Nicol E, Davies G, Jayakumar P, Green ND (April 2007). "Pneumopericardium and pneumomediastinum in a passenger on a commercial flight". Aviat Space Environ Med 78 (4): 435–9. PMID 17484349. Retrieved 2008-06-05. 
  10. ^ a b Butler FK, Gurney N (2001). "Orbital hemorrhage following face-mask barotrauma". Undersea Hyperb Med 28 (1): 31–4. PMID 11732882. Retrieved 2008-07-06. 
  11. ^ Barotrauma Presenting as Temporal Lobe Injury Secondary to Temporal Bone Rupture - AJNR Am J Neuroradiol 26:1218–1219, May 2005
  12. ^ Robichaud R, McNally ME (January 2005). "Barodontalgia as a differential diagnosis: symptoms and findings". J Can Dent Assoc 71 (1): 39–42. PMID 15649340. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  13. ^ Rauch JW (1985). "Barodontalgia--dental pain related to ambient pressure change". Gen Dent 33 (4): 313–5. PMID 2863194. 
  14. ^ Zadik Y (August 2006). "Barodontalgia due to odontogenic inflammation in the jawbone". Aviat Space Environ Med 77 (8): 864–6. PMID 16909883. Retrieved 2008-07-16. 
  15. ^ Zadik Y, Chapnik L, Goldstein L (June 2007). "In-flight barodontalgia: analysis of 29 cases in military aircrew". Aviat Space Environ Med 78 (6): 593–6. PMID 17571660. Retrieved 2008-07-16. 
  16. ^ Yehuda Zadik (April 2009). "Barodontalgia". J Endod 35 (4): 481–5. doi:10.1016/j.joen.2008.12.004. PMID 19345791. Retrieved 2009-06-01. 
  17. ^ Zadik Y; Einy, S; Pokroy, R; Bar Dayan, Y; Goldstein, L (June 2006). "Dental Fractures on Acute Exposure to High Altitude". Aviat Space Environ Med 77 (6): 654–7. PMID 16780246. Retrieved 2008-07-16. 
  18. ^ Zadik, Yehuda (January 2009). "Aviation dentistry: current concepts and practice". British Dental Journal 206 (1): 11–6. doi:10.1038/sj.bdj.2008.1121. PMID 19132029. Retrieved 2009-01-26. 
  19. ^ Zadik, Yehuda; Drucker Scott (September 2011). "Diving dentistry: a review of the dental implications of scuba diving". Aust Dent J. 56 (3): 265–71. doi:10.1111/j.1834-7819.2011.01340.x. PMID 21884141. 
  20. ^ Marx, John (2010). Rosen's emergency medicine: concepts and clinical practice 7th edition. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby/Elsevier. p. 1906. ISBN 9780323054720. 
  21. ^ a b Marx, John (2010). Rosen's emergency medicine: concepts and clinical practice 7th edition. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby/Elsevier. p. 1907. ISBN 9780323054720. 
  22. ^ Bolognini A, Delehaye E, Cau M, Cosso L (2008). "Barotraumatic orbital emphysema of rhinogenic origin in a breath-hold diver: a case report". Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine 35 (3): 163–7. PMID 18619111. Retrieved 2009-08-07. 
  23. ^ Life effects of Barotrauma at the American Hearing Research Foundation
  24. ^ a b Lehm Jan P, Bennett Michael H (2003). "Predictors of middle ear barotrauma associated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy". South Pacific Underwater Medicine Society Journal 33: 127–133. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  25. ^ Torkki, Markus; Virve Koljonen, Kirsi Sillanpää1, Erkki Tukiainen, Sari Pyörälä, Esko Kemppainen, Juha Kalske, Eero Arajärvi, Ulla Keränen, Eero Hirvensalo (August 2006). "Triage in a Bomb Disaster with 166 Casualties". European Journal of Trauma 32 (4): 374–80. doi:10.1007/s00068-006-6039-8. 
  26. ^ Kenneth Gabriel Williams (1959). The New Frontier: Man's Survival in the Sky. Thomas. Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  27. ^ Bason R, Yacavone DW (May 1992). "Loss of cabin pressurization in U.S. Naval aircraft: 1969-90". Aviat Space Environ Med 63 (5): 341–5. PMID 1599378. 

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • barotrauma — m. traumat. Toda lesión provocada por una variación de la presión, tanto por su aumento como por su disminución. El sistema nervioso, el oído y los senos frontales y maxilares son los órganos que se ven más afectados. Medical Dictionary. 2011 …   Diccionario médico

  • Barotrauma — (n) eng barotrauma …   Arbeitssicherheit und Gesundheitsschutz Glossar

  • barotrauma — barotràuma ž DEFINICIJA pat. ukupnost pojava uzrokovanih razlikama atmosferskog ili podvodnog tlaka; kemijske, fizičke i biološke pojave u organizmu izloženom tlaku ETIMOLOGIJA baro + v. trauma …   Hrvatski jezični portal

  • Barotrauma — Klassifikation nach ICD 10 T70.0 Barotrauma, Ohr T70.1 Barotrauma, Nasennebenhöhlen T70.2 …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • barotrauma — /bar euh trow meuh, traw /, n., pl. barotraumata / meuh teuh/, barotraumas. Pathol. injury of certain organs, esp. the ear, due to a change in the atmospheric pressure. Cf. aerotitis media. [BARO + TRAUMA] * * * ▪ physiology       any of several… …   Universalium

  • barotrauma — 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 baro trauma), and the intestines. One example of barotruauma is… …   Aviation dictionary

  • Barotrauma — Druckverletzung * * * Barotrauma,   Medizin: Bezeichnung für Gesundheitsstörungen durch Unter oder Überdruck in lufthaltigen Körperhöhlen durch schnellen Luftdruckwechsel beim Tauchen oder Fliegen; führt z. B. im Mittelohr bis zum Druckausgleich… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • barotrauma — noun Date: 1937 injury of a body part or organ as a result of changes in barometric pressure …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • barotrauma — an injury that results from rapid or extreme changes in pressure. Found in fishes pulled from depths rapidly or in humans where may simply be a discomfort in the ear based on differing pressures on either side of the ear drum …   Dictionary of ichthyology

  • barotrauma — noun Damage to body tissue caused by a difference in pressure between an air space in or near the body and the surrounding air …   Wiktionary

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