For the more serious pressure-related injuries -- overfilled lungs, "the bends," or gastric barotrauma -- divers tend to exhibit dramatic symptoms immediately. If you're with someone who complains of chest pains, exhibits stroke-type symptoms, loses consciousness, or otherwise has a traumatic reaction after surfacing, you can at least suspect they're having a lung-related barotrauma and are in need of immediate aid. A U.S. Navy report showed that, in 24 cases of pulmonary barotrauma that were studied, nearly half showed symptoms within one minute of reaching the surface. Nine took place while still underwater, and four cases developed within 10 minutes of surfacing [source: Campbell].
In rare cases, or when other things like infections are also part of the problem, doctors may insert short-term tubes to help drain the fluid buildup. More holistic patients have also reported luck with candling -- a non-medical treatment in which heat is used to draw blockages out of the ear -- although reports on the safety and usefulness of this old practice vary. If you're not sure about the severity of your injury, or you're experiencing vertigo symptoms, consult a physician. It's possible that your trauma goes further into the ear than most of these injuries usually do.
For most of us, these circumstances are very unlikely compared to more common types of barotrauma. While the body is designed to deal with pressure imbalances, and will eventually equalize that pressure as well as heal any damage that's occurred, you are still better off armed with the facts. Long-term injury or hearing loss are rare in simple airplane barotraumas -- although they can be excruciating -- and most treatment involves simply waiting it out or repeating your yawning exercises to ease the sensation. Just remember to visualize what's happening when your body is about to undergo a sudden change in pressure, and be mindful of what you can do to avoid the pain. If no red-alert symptoms accompany common barotrauma, give your body a few hours to recover, and it should soon be a distant memory.