Aural barotrauma in submarine escape: Is mastoid pneumatization of significance?
Toklu, Akın Savaş
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Objective. Submarine escape training is carried out by preselected, healthy young men under strictly controlled conditions regarding exposure to pressure and the rate of pressure change. This provides a unique opportunity to investigate the relations between middle ear characteristics and susceptibility to barotrauma while avoiding possible confounding parameters. We examined a possible association between mastoid pneumatization and middle ear barotrauma (MEB) in submarine escape trainees. Study Design: Cross-sectional, parallel-group design. Methods: Sixty-six subjects aged 19 to 28 participated in the study. The escape simulation included pressurization to 30 or 60 feet followed by a buoyant ascent to the surface. Subjects were evaluated for MEB after each ascent. A Schuller's mastoid radiograph was taken for the evaluation of mastoid pneumatization. Results. Fifteen (23%) of the subjects suffered from NMB, and 6 (40%) of them had bilateral involvement. Repeated impedance audiometry after the completion of a successful ascent revealed a significant increase in middle ear compliance. Schuller's radiographs were obtained from 49 (74%) of the subjects. Of these radiographs, 16 (16%) were of ears that had suffered MEB. Mastoid pneumatization for all ears approached a normal Gaussian distribution, with a mean area of 9.58 cm(2). The mastoid areas and the proportion of ears with mastoid pneumatization at the extremes of the study population did not differ between barotrauma and no-barotrauma ears. Conclusion: In a population with no history of recurrent or chronic otitis media and normal tympanic membrane morphology and compliance, the amount of mastoid pneumatization probably represents merely the normal distribution of variation in organ size and is not related to the ability to equalize pressure in the middle ear.
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