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Otologic Considerations of Blast Injury

  • D. Spencer Darley and Robert M. Kellman


The ear by design is exquisitely sensitive to barotrauma. As a result, it is typically the first organ affected in primary blast injury. The most common symptoms encountered include hearing loss, ringing, and drainage. In severe cases, the highest priority is appropriately directed toward diagnosis and treatment of life-threatening injuries; however, injury to the ear is missed frequently. With simple screening procedures, limited management, and appropriate otolaryngologic referral, acute and long-term morbidity can be averted for both critical and noncritical patients. The article provides an overview of blast mechanics and pathophysiology. It details various blast-related injuries to the external, middle, and inner ear. Standard of care assessment and management strategies are presented for acute and late otologic sequelae of the blast-injured patient.

(Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2010;4:145-152)


Corresponding author

Correspondence: Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr D. Spencer Darley, Department of Otolaryngology and Communication Disorders, Upstate Medical University.


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