Inner Ear Decompression Sickness and Inner Ear Barotrauma in Recreational Divers: A Long-Term Follow-Up

Avi Shupak, Amnon Gil, Zohar Nachum, Shira Miller, Carlos R. Gordon, Dror Tal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Objectives/Hypothesis: The objectives were to report the authors' experience with the long-term follow-up of patients with diving-related inner ear decompression sickness and inner ear barotrauma and to discuss residual cochlear and vestibular damage in relation to the question of fitness to dive. Study Design: Retrospective consecutive case series. Methods: Eleven recreational divers with inner ear decompression sickness and nine with inner ear barotrauma (IEB) were followed. A complete otoneurological physical examination and laboratory evaluation were carried out. The latter included audiometry, electronystagmography, a rotatory chair test using the sinusoidal harmonic acceleration protocol, and computerized dynamic posturography. Results: Residual cochleovestibular deficits were found in 10 (91%) of the patients with inner ear decompression sickness and 3 (33%) of those with IEB (P < .02, Fisher's Exact test; odds ratio, 20). A significantly shorter follow-up period was required for the inner ear barotrauma group (P < .05, simple t test) because three patients (33%) recovered completely within 1 month of the diving accident. Eight patients had residual vestibular deficits on follow-up, but only one (12.5%) was symptomatic. However, five (56%) of the nine patients who had a cochlear insult, as documented by follow-up audiometry, complained of significant hearing loss and tinnitus. Conclusion: Inner ear decompression sickness carries a high risk for residual inner ear damage despite hyperbaric oxygen recompression therapy. A favorable prognosis might be anticipated for inner ear barotrauma. The finding that most patients with residual vestibular deficits were asymptomatic at the time of follow-up emphasizes the need for a complete vestibular evaluation, including specific bedside testing and laboratory examinations, before a return to diving activity may be considered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2141-2147
Number of pages7
JournalLaryngoscope
Volume113
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2003
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Barotrauma
  • Decompression sickness
  • Diving
  • Hyperbaric oxygen
  • Inner ear
  • Vestibular function tests

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