July 21, 2024
Difference Between Barotrauma and Volutrauma

Difference Between Barotrauma and Volutrauma

The key difference between Barotrauma and Volutrauma is that barotrauma is a condition that occurs when sudden changes in air or water pressure damage the physical body organs such as the ear, lungs, and sinuses. In contrast, volutrauma is a complication that occurs due to ultrastructural lung injury by over-distention happening during mechanical ventilation.

Both barotrauma and volutrauma can cause physical damage to internal body organs. They particularly result in lung injuries that have to be managed immediately.  barotrauma and volutrauma have different aetiologies and treatment regimes.


Barotrauma occurs when sudden changes in air or water pressure damage physical body organs such as ears, lungs, and sinuses. Ear barotrauma is a common example of barotrauma.

Other common examples of barotrauma are pulmonary and sinus barotrauma (sinus squeeze or barosinusitis). Barotrauma is caused when the outside air or water pressure changes faster than the body can safely adapt to them.

Figure: Barotrauma


Symptoms of ear barotrauma may include severe ear pain, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and feeling disoriented, while symptoms of pulmonary barotrauma may include chest pain, shortness of breath, bloody nose, bloody froth at the mouth; symptoms of sinus barotrauma may include facial pain, headaches, bloody nose, and congestion.

Barotrauma can be diagnosed through physical examination, MRI, hearing testing, chest X-rays to evaluate lung damage, examining the inside of the nose with an endoscope, and computed tomography (CT) scan to obtain images of the sinuses.

The treatment options for ear injury barotrauma are decongestants and a surgery called tympanoplasty. The treatment option for pulmonary barotrauma is oxygen therapy, while the treatment option for sinus barotrauma is prescribed decongestants.

Types of Barotrauma

Barotrauma refers to physical injuries or damage that occur due to changes in pressure between different environments. There are several types of barotrauma, each affecting different parts of the body.

Here are some common types:

  1. Ear Barotrauma: This is one of the most well-known types of barotrauma. It occurs when there’s a pressure imbalance between the inside and outside of the ear, such as during changes in altitude (e.g., during airplane travel) or when diving. It can cause pain, discomfort, and sometimes damage to the eardrum.
  2. Sinus Barotrauma: This occurs when there’s a pressure imbalance between the sinuses and the outside environment, often during changes in altitude. It can lead to pain and discomfort in the forehead, cheeks, and around the eyes.
  3. Pulmonary Barotrauma: This type of barotrauma affects the lungs. It can happen when a person holds their breath during rapid ascents or descents, such as during scuba diving or free diving. The pressure changes can cause lung tissue to rupture, leading to pneumothorax (collapsed lung) or other respiratory issues.
  4. Gastrointestinal Barotrauma: This type involves pressure changes in the digestive tract. It can happen when there are rapid changes in altitude or when diving. The pressure difference can cause gas to expand within the stomach and intestines, potentially leading to discomfort or pain.
  5. Tooth Barotrauma: Changes in pressure during diving or flying can also affect dental fillings, causing air trapped within teeth to expand or contract. This can lead to toothache or dental discomfort.
  6. Eye Barotrauma: Pressure changes during diving or flying can cause changes in intraocular pressure, leading to eye discomfort or pain. In severe cases, it might result in damage to the eyes.
  7. Facial Barotrauma: This type of barotrauma can occur when there’s a rapid pressure change that affects the face, such as during high-speed ascents or descents in aircraft. It can cause discomfort, sinus pain, or even injury to facial structures.
  8. Middle Ear Barotrauma: This is a specific type of ear barotrauma that affects the middle ear. It can occur when the eustachian tubes, which connect the middle ear to the back of the throat, are unable to equalize pressure properly during changes in altitude. This can lead to pain, hearing impairment, or even damage to the eardrum.
  9. Barotrauma from Medical Procedures: Certain medical procedures, like mechanical ventilation or insertion of tubes into body cavities, can also cause barotrauma if pressure changes are not managed properly.

It’s important to note that barotrauma can range from mild discomfort to severe injury, depending on the extent of pressure changes, the individual’s health, and the circumstances in which the pressure change occurs. If you’re planning activities that involve rapid pressure changes, such as diving or flying, it’s a good idea to take precautions and seek advice from professionals if you have concerns.


Volutrauma, caused by mechanical ventilation, can appear either as excess alveolar air or acute ventilator-related lung injury. Excessively stretching airways and alveoli causes Volutrauma.

Signs and symptoms of volutrauma may include severe injury to the alveoli resulting in tissue swelling or edema in the lung, alveolar hemorrhage, decreased lung compliance, alveolar rupture, and complete alveolar collapse. Serious damage may occur. in lung compliance, alveolar rupture, and complete alveoli collapse.

Volutrauma can be diagnosed through physical examination, chest X-ray, arterial blood gas to quantify the degree of respiratory compromise, and CT scan. treatment options for volutrauma may include lung protective ventilation, chest drains such as draining extra alveolar gas, and double-lumen tubes or differential lung ventilation.

Types of Volutrauma

Volutrauma is a type of lung injury that occurs when the alveoli (tiny air sacs in the lungs) become overdistended or overinflated due to excessive mechanical ventilation. This can happen when the pressure or volume of air delivered to the lungs during mechanical ventilation exceeds the lung’s natural elasticity.

Volutrauma is often associated with positive pressure ventilation, particularly in patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) or other conditions requiring mechanical ventilation.

Here are some types of volutrauma and related concepts:

  1. High-Volume Volutrauma: This occurs when the tidal volume (the amount of air delivered with each breath) during mechanical ventilation is set too high. Excessive tidal volumes can lead to overinflation of the alveoli, causing them to stretch beyond their normal capacity. This can result in damage to lung tissue and inflammation.
  2. High-Pressure Volutrauma: This type of volutrauma is caused by excessive airway pressures during mechanical ventilation. If the peak inspiratory pressure (the maximum pressure reached during inhalation) is too high, it can lead to overinflation of the alveoli and potential lung damage.
  3. Ventilator-Induced Lung Injury (VILI): Volutrauma is a component of ventilator-induced lung injury (VILI). VILI encompasses a range of injuries caused by mechanical ventilation, including volutrauma, barotrauma, and other forms of lung damage. Preventing VILI is an important consideration in managing patients on mechanical ventilation.
  4. Lung Protective Ventilation: To mitigate the risk of volutrauma and other types of ventilator-induced injury, clinicians often use lung protective ventilation strategies. This involves using lower tidal volumes and limiting airway pressures to prevent overdistension of the alveoli. Positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP) is also used to keep the alveoli open at the end of expiration, improving oxygenation and reducing the risk of lung collapse.
  5. ARDS and Volutrauma: Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a condition characterized by severe inflammation and fluid accumulation in the lungs, leading to impaired gas exchange. Patients with ARDS are often managed with mechanical ventilation. However, their delicate lung tissue can be particularly susceptible to volutrauma, making lung protective strategies crucial in their care.
  6. Ventilator Strategies: Ventilator strategies that aim to reduce volutrauma and other ventilator-associated complications include low tidal volume ventilation, permissive hypercapnia (allowing a slight increase in carbon dioxide levels), and prone positioning (placing the patient face down) to improve oxygenation and distribute pressure more evenly within the lungs.

It’s important to recognize that volutrauma is one aspect of a larger set of ventilator-associated complications. Healthcare professionals carefully consider individual patient factors, clinical context, and current guidelines when determining appropriate ventilation strategies to minimize the risk of lung injury.

Similarities Between Barotrauma and Volutrauma

  • Barotrauma and volutrauma are two conditions that can cause physical damage to internal body organs.
  • Both cause lung injuries, which lead to respiratory compromise.
  • Diagnosis can be made through both physical examination and imaging tests.
  • They can be treated through specific therapies.

Barotrauma and Volutrauma comparison chart

Barotrauma and volutrauma are terms often used in the context of mechanical ventilation and respiratory physiology. They both refer to different types of lung injury that can occur due to mechanical stress during breathing. Here’s a comparison chart to help you understand the differences between them:

Aspect Barotrauma Volutrauma
Definition Lung injury caused by high airway pressures Lung injury caused by excessive tidal volume
Cause High-pressure ventilation (e.g., high PEEP) Excessive tidal volume
Mechanism Stretching and damaging lung tissue Overdistension of alveoli
Type of Injury Structural damage to lung tissue Microscopic alveolar damage
Pathophysiology Alveolar rupture and pneumothorax Alveolar rupture and inflammation
Clinical Features Pneumothorax, subcutaneous emphysema Alveolar flooding, increased dead space
Radiological Findings Visible pneumothorax on imaging Patchy infiltrates on chest X-ray
Prevention Limiting airway pressure and PEEP Limiting tidal volume and plateau pressure
Consequences This can lead to pneumothorax, ARDS, and mortality Can exacerbate lung injury and inflammation
Treatment Chest tube insertion, supportive care Adjust ventilation settings, manage ARDS

It’s important to note that both barotrauma and volutrauma can contribute to the development of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a severe lung condition characterized by inflammation and impaired gas exchange.

To prevent these injuries, careful monitoring and adjustment of mechanical ventilation settings are essential to maintain lung integrity while providing adequate oxygenation and ventilation.

How to survive barotrauma and volutrauma injuries?

Surviving barotrauma and volutrauma injuries depends on the severity of the injury and the promptness of medical intervention. Both types of injuries can range from mild discomfort to life-threatening conditions, so seeking medical attention is crucial.

Here are some general steps to consider if you suspect you or someone else has experienced barotrauma or volutrauma:

For Barotrauma:

  1. Ears: If you experience ear discomfort or pain during changes in altitude (e.g., during flights or diving), try swallowing, yawning, or gently blowing out through your nose while pinching your nostrils closed. These actions can help equalize the pressure between the middle ear and the external environment.
  2. Sinuses: If you experience sinus pain or discomfort during pressure changes, consider using decongestant nasal sprays or saline nasal irrigation to help relieve congestion. Chewing gum, yawning, and swallowing can also aid in equalizing sinus pressure.
  3. Lungs and Respiratory System: If you experience shortness of breath, chest pain, or coughing after pressure changes, seek medical attention promptly, especially if you have a history of lung or respiratory conditions. These symptoms could indicate pulmonary barotrauma or other respiratory issues.

For Volutrauma:

  1. Mechanical Ventilation: If you or someone you know is on mechanical ventilation and you suspect volutrauma, it’s important for healthcare professionals to adjust ventilator settings promptly. Lung-protective ventilation strategies, including lower tidal volumes and appropriate positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP), should be employed to prevent further lung damage.
  2. ARDS or Respiratory Distress: If you are experiencing severe respiratory distress, worsening breathing difficulties, or increased chest pain while on mechanical ventilation, notify healthcare providers immediately. These could be signs of complications related to volutrauma or other ventilator-associated issues.
  3. Medical Attention: If you suspect any form of lung injury or respiratory distress, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Delaying treatment can lead to worsening conditions and complications.

In both cases:

  1. Medical Evaluation: It’s crucial to consult a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Barotrauma and volutrauma injuries can have varying levels of severity, and a medical professional can determine the appropriate course of action.
  2. Follow Medical Advice: Follow the advice and recommendations provided by healthcare professionals. Treatment may involve medications, rest, breathing exercises, or other interventions depending on the nature and extent of the injury.
  3. Prevention: To prevent barotrauma and volutrauma injuries, especially if you have a history of respiratory or ear conditions, it’s important to take precautions. When diving, flying, or undergoing medical procedures involving pressure changes, discuss any concerns with healthcare providers and follow their guidance.

Remember that my responses are not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you or someone else is experiencing severe symptoms or distress, seek immediate medical attention.

Final word – Barotrauma and Volutrauma

Both barotrauma and volutrauma can cause physical damage to internal body organs such as the lungs. They can result in respiratory compromise or collapse. Hence, they are life-threatening.

Barotrauma occurs when sudden changes in air or water pressure damage the physical body organs such as ears, lungs, and sinuses. In contrast, volutrauma occurs due to ultrastructural lung injury due to overdistention of airways and alveoli occurring during mechanical ventilation. So, this summarizes the difference between barotrauma and volutrauma.