You are here

Sinus Barotrauma S015

Last amended 
11 March 2019
Current RMA Instruments
Reasonable Hypothesis SOP
23 of 2019
Balance of Probabilities SOP
24 of 2019
Changes from previous Instruments

SOP Bulletin 207

 ICD Coding
  • ICD-9-CM Codes: 993.1
  • ICD-10-AM Codes: T70.1
Brief description

Barotrauma literally means pressure related trauma, with the pressure referring to atmospheric pressure.  Barotrauma occurs when a pressure difference develops across a gas containing structure, causing damage to the structure.  For sinus barotrauma the structures are the paranasal sinuses (ethmoid, maxillary, sphenoid, frontal).  Most cases occur in scuba divers and fliers.

Normally atmospheric pressure changes are transmitted to the paranasal sinuses by communicating pathways (ostia), leading to equalisation of the pressure.  However, if the atmospheric pressure changes are too rapid or if the ostia are inadequate, a pressure difference can cause mucosal engorgement, edema, and inflammation. The frontal sinus is most commonly affected.

Confirming the diagnosis

Diagnosis is made based on the history and clinical presentation.  Paranasal sinus imaging may be undertaken.  The diagnosis may be made by a GP or other doctor with diving and hyperbaric medicine accreditation or aviation medicine accreditation.

The relevant medical specialist is an Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon.

Additional diagnoses covered by SOP
  • Aerosinusitis
  • Barosinusitis
  • Sinus squeeze
Conditions not covered by SOP
  • Decompression sickness*
  • Dysbaric osteonecrosis*
  • Otitic barotrauma*
  • Pulmonary barotrauma*

* Another SOP applies

Clinical onset

This is an injury.  Clinical onset is at the time of the event causing the pressure difference to occur.  Symptoms may not be noticed immediately in some circumstances, so some SOP factors allow 24 hours for clinical manifestations to develop.  Common symptoms include localised sinus pain, epistaxis, and headache.

Clinical worsening

The usual course for sinus barotrauma is for the condition to resolve.  Treatment is with topical decongestants and painkillers.  In severe cases surgery may be required to restore ventilation and drainage of the sinus.  Recurrent sinus barotrauma generally indicates an underlying pathology or abnormality.