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Laryngoscope. 2003 Dec;113(12):2141-7.

Inner ear decompression sickness and inner ear barotrauma in recreational divers: a long-term follow-up.

Author information

1
Israel Naval Medical Institute, Israel Defense Forces Medical Corps, PO Box 8040, Haifa 31080, Israel. shupak@internet-zahav.net

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.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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