Submarine escape training is carried out by preselected, healthy young men under strictly controlled conditions regarding exposure to pressure and the rate of pressure change. This provides a unique opportunity to investigate the relations between middle ear characteristics and susceptibility to barotrauma while avoiding possible confounding parameters. We examined a possible association between mastoid pneumatization and middle ear barotrauma (MEB) in submarine escape trainees. Cross-sectional, parallel-group design. Sixty-six subjects aged 19 to 28 participated in the study. The escape simulation included pressurization to 30 or 60 feet followed by a buoyant ascent to the surface. Subjects were evaluated for MEB after each ascent. A Schuller’s mastoid radiograph was taken for the evaluation of mastoid pneumatization. Fifteen (23%) of the subjects suffered from MEB, and 6 (40%) of them had bilateral involvement. Repeated impedance audiometry after the completion of a successful ascent revealed a significant increase in middle ear compliance. Schuller’s radiographs were obtained from 49 (74%) of the subjects. Of these radiographs, 16 (16%) were of ears that had suffered MEB. Mastoid pneumatization for all ears approached a normal Gaussian distribution, with a mean area of 9.58 cm. The mastoid areas and the proportion of ears with mastoid pneumatization at the extremes of the study population did not differ between barotrauma and no-barotrauma ears.

Toklu, Shupak, Yildiz, Aktas, Ertracht, Ay, Adir, Cimsit, (2005). Aural barotrauma in submarine escape: is mastoid pneumatization of significance? The Laryngoscope, 2005 Jul;115(7):1305-9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15995526