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Ear Popping Symptoms & Diagnosis


If you have symptoms of an air embolism (an air bubble in your bloodstream) due to pulmonary barotrauma, you need to seek treatment immediately. Symptoms of an air embolism to the brain are usually identified very quickly after you surface from the water.

Symptoms of decompression sickness usually occur within an hour of surfacing from the water ,but can occur up to six hours later. If you have decompression sickness, it is very important to seek treatment immediately.

If you experience any of these other symptoms do not assume it is due to barotrauma. These symptoms may be caused by other, less serious health conditions. If you experience any one of them, see your physician.

Symptoms include:

Ear Barotrauma

  • Discomfort or pain in one or both ears
  • Feeling as though your ears are clogged
  • Feeling of pressure in your ears
  • Dizziness
  • Hearing loss (temporary)
  • Bleeding from the ear (rare)
  • Tinnitus

Sinus Barotrauma

Pulmonary Barotrauma

Air Embolism Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • Reactions similar to a stroke :
    • Headache
    • Agitation
    • Confusion
  • Other symptoms:
    • Partial paralysis
    • Sudden loss of consciousness
    • Seizures
    • Coughing up blood
    • Frothy blood at the mouth
    • Chest pain
    • Shortness of breath
    • Hoarseness
    • Pneumothorax —a condition in which air escapes from the lungs into the chest cavity and compresses the lungs resulting in a collapsed lung

Decompression Symptoms

Decompression symptoms may include:

  • Swelling
  • Pain in muscles, joints, tendons
  • Problems of the spinal cord—paralysis
  • Problems of the sensory system
  • Problems with lungs—chest pain, cough , shortness of breath (sometimes called the chokes)
  • Rashes or itchy skin
  • Bubbles under your skin


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. If you have been flying or have been diving recently it is important to tell your physician.

If you think that you have pulmonary barotrauma or decompression sickness, seek medical attention immediately through your doctor or a local hospital.

Ear Barotrauma

When you go to your doctor, he or she will look into your ear with a special flashlight called an otoscope. The otoscope allows your doctor to see your eardrum. If you have barotrauma, your doctor may see a bulge of the eardrum due to the difference in pressure between the inside and outside of your eardrum. If your condition is serious, there may even be blood behind the eardrum.

Sinus Barotrauma

There are no tests to diagnose sinus barotrauma. Diagnosis depends on your doctor getting an accurate history and then conducting an appropriate examination.

Pulmonary Barotrauma

To check for air embolisms and possible lung collapse, your doctor may order tests such as:

  • Chest x-ray —an x-ray that looks for changes in blood vessel patterns
  • Computed tomography (CT) —an imaging scan that can find small strokes in the brain that may be caused by air embolisms.
  • Pulmonary function test —a test that measures how much air is in the lungs and how forcefully this air can be exhaled.
  • Lung perfusion scan—tests for pulmonary embolisms. A tiny amount of radioactive substance is injected into a vein and travels to the lungs. The scan allows your doctor to examine the blood supply to the lungs.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) —imagining scan that provides a three-dimensional image of your body, allowing your doctor to look for brain or spinal cord abnormalities
  • Pulse oximetry—to measure the level of oxygen in your blood. This is a simple device that clips on the finger to measure the oxygen level.

If you have been diving recently and show symptoms of decompression sickness, your doctor may choose to treat you immediately without doing any other tests or at least without waiting for test results to return.

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