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    Ear Pain, Scuba Diving

    Medical Treatment

    The most important treatment was done by aborting the dive and ascending to the surface, making any necessary decompression stops.

    • Initial treatment involves the use of oral decongestants and nasal spray to help open the eustachian tube. Antihistamines may also be prescribed if an allergy is a contributing factor.
    • Pain medications are helpful, and eardrops to relieve pain may be used if the eardrum is not ruptured.
    • A ruptured eardrum will require antibiotics by mouth to prevent infections.
    • Hearing exams or audiograms may be needed if the eardrum is ruptured or hearing loss is present.
    • If the person has a facial paralysis, oral steroids may be prescribed.

    Next Steps - Follow-up

    • Avoid eardrops unless prescribed by a doctor. Put nothing into the ear.
    • The person may be referred to an ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT) to monitor the eardrum healing.
    • No further diving should be undertaken until 2 weeks after all symptoms are resolved and the eardrum is healed.

     

    Prevention

    Prevention is the preferred treatment for ear pain involved with scuba diving.

    • Divers who are unable to clear their ears or experience pain should stop their descent and abort the dive.
      • Divers clear their ears by several methods. The most common is the valsalva maneuver. This involves plugging the nose, closing the mouth, and blowing. The procedure increases the pressure in the mouth and throat, pushing air into the eustachian tube to open it up.
    • Divers should equalize their ears frequently when descending.
    • Diving should not be attempted if any sinus or upper respiratory symptoms are present.

    Outlook

    Most ear pain with scuba diving will go away by itself -- usually within a week -- without long-term effects. Eardrum ruptures usually heal themselves over longer periods of time, but they sometimes require surgical repair. Facial paralysis, if present, most often is temporary. Mild hearing loss may continue.

    Synonyms and Keywords

    ear pain, scuba diving, middle ear barotrauma, MEBT, barotitis media, ear squeeze, scuba diving ear pain

    WebMD Medical Reference from eMedicineHealth

    Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on March 19, 2016
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