Have you ever had problems equalizing on a dive? Maybe your ears hurt underwater when you descend? If you’re unlucky, maybe you know the feeling all too well. If you’re extremely
In my sixteen years as an instructor, I have seen all kinds of students who have had difficulty with equalization. Hell, even I had some problems with this skill when I first started. After all, it is not natural for us to “pop” our ears.
The good news is that the vast majority of the time SCUBA diving ear problems are easily correctable. Things like being able to equalize one ear easily but not the other, being afraid to push too hard and having sinus congestion are just a few examples of the things that happen which you can easily overcome. Below we will explain how to stop your ears from hurting underwater so you can dive comfortably for years to come.
Before we get started, let’s talk about what causes the pain we feel when we descend. It all has to do with pressure.
As we descend into the water column the pressure surrounding us increases. That increase causes our ear drums to compress. This happens because the water pressure outside of our ear is greater than the air pressure inside of our ear.
Equalization is the process whereby we equalize the air pressure in our inner ear to the pressure outside of our ear. We do this by pushing air from our sinuses to our inner ear through the Eustachian Tube, a thin tube that connects our inner ear to our sinuses.
Because the Eustachian Tube is so thin, it is easily compressed. Once compressed, it becomes extremely difficult to pass air through the tube. This makes it almost impossible to equalize and is the reason why we must equalize early and often when we begin our descent into the depths.
What happens if you do not equalize?
Have you ever wondered what would happen if you did not equalize or were unable to equalize? Well, there are a couple of things that can occur and they are not pleasant.
First, you could theoretically cause your eardrums to burst if you were able to stand the pain caused by not equalizing and were able to descend deep enough into the water column. This is unlikely since the pain alone would likely cause you to stop your descent. What could happen is that, once you feel pain in your ears, you would try too hard to equalize by pushing air too
There are two things that can cause you to push too hard:
Discover The 4 Little-Known Keys To Being A Competent, Comfortable And Skilled Diver.
When to equalize when SCUBA diving?
When we equalize is as important as how we equalize. Equalization occurs early and often. Before you break the surface and begin your descent, you should begin to equalize. You should equalize every couple of feet as you descend to your dive site. If you do not equalize early and often and force yourself down, your eardrum can compress causing pain. The pressure can even seal your Eustachian Tube. This is known as the “trapdoor effect” and can be avoided by equalizing early and often
A good rule thumb here is to understand that, if you feel pain in your ears, you have waited too long to equalize. In the event that your feel pressure in your ears, stop your descent and ascend a few feet until the pain goes away and you can equalize. Once this happens, you are free to continue to descend to that wreck you are dying to see!
You should never equalize on
Remember that, due to your dive site’s topography, your actual depth may change while you are diving. Whenever you ascend a little to see that shark swimming at the top of the reef, you have to equalize again to check out the eel in the hole at the bottom!
There are several different ear equalization techniques you can use for ear
The most common method of equalization is called the Valsalva maneuver. This is probably the one that you were taught in your dive class. The Valsalva maneuver is named after Italian anatomist Antonio Maria Valsalva, who was the first to document the technique.
There are several ear equalization techniques you can try.
What you are doing with the vast majority of the variations above is relieving pressure on the Eustachian tubes to allow the air to enter them so you could equalize.
What if I still Can't Equalize Ear Pressure??
Believe it or not, despite all the variations you saw above, there is still a very small percentage of people who have difficulty equalizing. If you are one of these people, keep reading for some other tips to help you get to that dive site you’ve always wanted to see!
Congestion and diving
When you are congested or have a cold, it is not recommended that you
Some people have advocated taking medication to relieve congestion before a dive. This is potentially dangerous as the side effects of medications while under pressure are not completely understood and their effects could wear off mid-dive causing a dangerous situation.
The big takeaway here is that, when done properly, equalization is not difficult and it is safe. Just like anything else we try to do, it requires practice to master. Whichever method you decide on using, just remember that you will get better at it as you continue to dive.
A couple of things to remember:
If you would like to learn more about the medical aspects of equalization including some video on what happens to your ear drum when you equalize, click the link below:
If you would like to learn more about the valsalva maneuver along with the other equalization techniques mentioned in this article. Make sure to watch this video from Dr. Edmond Kay on how to resolve common SCUBA diving ear problems.