Air pressure and Inner Ear Problems


What is "Barometric Pressure?" What is normal or high? I have an inner ear condition and at times can get pretty bad. Some days I feel a pressure in my ear and head, and other days I've gotten dizzy spells from it. I'm very sensitive to air pressures, sounds, turning my head different ways I can hear air sounds and other little sounds that air carries. I'm trying to understand the things that could make it worse, so I know what to watch out for, and/or avoid. Sometimes I wonder if there is a place I can move to that would be more favorable in keeping my condition under control! Thanks.


Barometric pressure is effectively the "weight" of the column of air above the surface ... more molecules of air in the column (gases, water vapor, dust) mean a higher pressure.  Standard sea-level pressure (SLP) is approx. 29.92 inches of mercury (" Hg) -- "inches of mercury" is a measure of the height of mercury in an old-style barometer, an instrument for measuring pressure.  While these old-style cumbersome instruments are seldom used anymore, we continue to use their measuring scale, especially in the U.S.

You will also hear more and more about "millibars" (mb), another measure of pressure and becoming the popular scale for tropical weather.

29.92" Hg = 1013.2 mb

By comparison ... a Category 1 hurricane's pressure is nearly a full 1" Hg lower than SLP, and a pressure of 30.3" Hg would be rather high.

On average, pressure decreases with elevation, so if you prefer lower pressures, you want to find higher altitudes.  Want higher pressures?  Stay close to the coast, or go live in Death Valley (uh, wait: high pressure but intense heat!).

Now, as I understand it (and of course, I am not a medical expert) . . . for MOST people, responses to pressure are more related to the RATE of change rather than the actual amount of change.  A rapid drop in pressure has a bigger impact.  Why?  Because your "internal" pressure responds to the atmosphere's pressure.  As the atmosphere's pressure changes, your "insides" adjust, but at a slower rate.  It is during this period of "internal" adjustment that you may notice the discomfort.

Quick changes in pressure are a product of weather . . . frontal systems are the most frequent, rapid pressure changing features.  If fronts create discomfort, then I would argue that there are few better places to live than along the Gulf Coast.  Northern states deal with frontal passages year-around, but the Deep South sees active frontal weather only during a part of the year -- in the summer and early fall, fronts only pass occasionally.

If you are highly pressure sensitive, there is probably little that you can do about it.  Stay indoors during frontal passages and keep the house as tightly closed as possible.  Yes ... the house will adjust to the outdoor pressure, but like your "insides," a tightly sealed home will adjust a bit more slowly than the outdoor, atmospheric pressure changes.  Presumably, a slower pressure adjustment will be easier to tolerate physically.

Hope this helps!

Jay Grymes
Chief Meteorologist
WAFB Storm Team