Inner ear decompression sickness in Finland: a retrospective 20-year multicenter study

Undersea Hyperb Med. 2021 Fourth Quarter;48(4):399-408.


Introduction: Inner ear decompression sickness (IEDCS) is a condition from which only a minority of patients recover completely, the majority ending up with mild to moderate residual symptoms. IEDCS has been reported after deep technical dives using mixed breathing gases, and moderate recreational dives with compressed air as the breathing gas. Considering this and the high proportion of technical diving in Finland, a comparison between IEDCS cases resulting from technical and recreational dives is warranted.

Methods: This is a retrospective examination of IEDCS patients treated at Hyperbaric Center Medioxygen or National Hyperbaric Centre of Turku University Hospital from 1999 to 2018. Patients were included if presenting with hearing loss, tinnitus, or vertigo and excluded if presenting only with symptoms of middle ear or cerebellar involvement. Patients were divided into technical and recreational divers, based on incident dive.

Results: A total of 89 (15.6%) of all DCS patients presented with IEDCS, two-thirds treated during the latter decade. The most common predisposing factors were consecutive days of diving (47.2%), multiple dives per day (53.9%), and factors related to an increase in intrathoracic pressure (27.0%). The symptoms were cochlear in 19.1% and vestibular in 93.3% of cases, symptoms being more common and severe in technical divers. Complete recovery was achieved in 64.5% of technical and 71.4% of recreational divers.

Conclusion: The incidence of IEDCS in Finland is increasing, most likely due to changing diving practices. A comprehensive examination should be carried out after an incident of IEDCS in all cases, irrespective of clinical recovery.

Keywords: ENT; decompression; diving; epidemiology; labyrinth.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Decompression
  • Decompression Sickness* / epidemiology
  • Decompression Sickness* / etiology
  • Diving* / adverse effects
  • Ear, Inner*
  • Finland / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Retrospective Studies