Does Scuba Diving Hurt Your Ears?
As a professional diving center, people ask as all the time “Doesn’t scuba diving hurt my ears? ” Many potential divers have experienced ear pain when diving down in a swimming pool because they did not properly equalize the pressure in their ears. These people are worried that they will experience the same sensation when scuba diving. Relax, most people can equalize their Sinus Pressure.
Can You Equalize Your Ears?
Right about now, you are probably wondering if you can equalize your ears. Try this: pinch your nose closed and gently breath out against your pinched nostrils. You should feel something happen in your ears as they equalize. Ear pressure equalization is usually accompanied by a popping/clicking/“poof” sound and a sensation of fullness in the ears. If this technique did not work for you, alternate methods used to equalize the ears when diving are listed below.
Why Do Divers Have to Equalize Their Ears?
Water pressure increases the deeper a diver goes. Since the outer ear is is effected by the pressure of the surrounding environment, the pressure in the outer ear increases as a diver descends. However, the middle ear is sealed so the pressure in the middle ear does not change. If a diver descends without equalizing his ears, the increased pressure in the outer ear relative to the middle ear flexes the eardrum inwards. Ouch! The discomfort felt as the eardrum bends inwards is called a squeeze. A Diver must equalize the air pressure in his middle ear with the pressure in his outer ear or he risks an ear barotrauma (pressure related injury) or even rupturing his ear drum.
How Do Divers Equalize Their Ears?
To equalize the air pressure in his middle ear during descent, a diver must manually open his Eustachian tube to allow high pressure air to fill the middle ear. This is easier than it sounds. Divers can equalize their ears using any of the following techniques.
• Valsalva Maneuver
Pinch your nostrils closed and blow gently through your nose.
• Frenzel Maneuver
Preform a very gentle Valsalva maneuver by breathing against pinched nostrils and swallowing at the same time.
• Swallow or Wiggle Your Jaw
How Often Should Divers Equalize Their Ears on Descent?
The answer varies from diver to diver. The general rule is that a diver should equalize his ears before he feels pain or discomfort. Most divers equalize their ears every few feet while descending. Keep in mind if a divers ascends a little bit, he will have to re-equalize his ears as he descends again. A diver cannot over-equalize his ears, so when in doubt, equalize! Do Divers Have to Equalize Their Ears on Ascent?: Usually, divers do not have to manually equalize their ears as they ascend. As the water pressure decreases on ascent, the pressure in the middle ear becomes greater than the pressure in the outer ear. The extra air pressure usually leaks out the Eustachian tube automatically. If a diver’s ears do not equalize automatically as he is ascending, he may experience discomfort in his ears as the eardrum bends outwards, called a reverse block. A diver experiencing a reverse block may feel discomfort sometimes accompanied by a feeling of dizziness called alternobaric vertigo. Alternobaric vertigo occurs when one ear equalizes automatically on ascent and the other does not. Reverse blocks are common when the Eustachian tube is inflamed, or when a diver is congested. Keep in mind that a reverse block is caused by too much air pressure in the middle ear, so attempting a Valsalva Maneuver (or similar equalization technique for descents) will only make the problem worse because it adds more air pressure to the already over-full middle ear.
• Toynbee Maneuver (Equalizes Ear Pressure on Ascent)
If you must manually equalize your ears on ascent, try the Toynbee Maneuver. Pinch your nose closed and swallow. This creates a negative pressure and will help to suck extra air pressure out of the middle ear.
What Should a Diver Do If He Has Equalization Problems?: If a diver has equalization problems, either on ascent or descent, he should immediately establish neutral buoyancy so that he does not descend or ascend inadvertently. Any further depth (and therefore pressure) change could exacerbate the problem. The diver should signal to his buddy that he has a problem with his ears, and attempt one of the following techniques. Remember never to equalize forcefully.
• For Equalization Problems on Descent
1. Take a few seconds to relax and focus on your breathing.
2. Gently try a different equalization technique, such as swallowing
3. Look up to stretch open your Eustachian tubes and gently try to equalize.
4. Ascend a few feet and try to equalize again.
5. If nothing works, slowly ascend to the surface, relax for a few minutes, blow your nose and clear your throat, and then try again.
• For Equalization Problems on Ascent
1. Open your Eustachian tubes by swallowing or wiggling your jaw.
2. Try the Toynbee Maneuver: pinch your nose closed and swallow.
3. Descend a few feet and wait for the pressure to equalize on its own.
Don’t hesitate to ask our instructors here in Omega Divers Chania for more information.