Especially potential divers who are making “try dives” without scuba in a pool or in shallow water, has the fear of “hurting ears“. When I meet with people and tell them that I am a professional scuba diver, their first question is “don’t your ears hurt while diving?” This is a typical but important question. Every diver should know how to prevent their ears hurt. Don’t worry, there are several solutions to avoid this situation. In my article today, I’ll talk about the “ear squeeze” and “equalization“.
Parts of Our Ear
Let’s learn a little bit about parts of our ears first.
Outer Ear: It is the part you can touch and see. It collects the sound vibrations and help us hear.
Middle Ear: It is the part that is full with air. Air in middle air cannot go out from the outer ear. Air can only move through our mouth through the Eustachian tube. This tube connects our nose to our ears and throat.
Ear Drum: This is a slim membrane separating the outer and the middle ear.
Why Squeeze Happens?
Now, we can go on with the reason of ear squeeze.
When we start to descent, pressure increases with depth. This increases pressure affects the outer drum. Because our outer ears are in the water already. However, pressure in our middle ear is stable. Because it is “inside“. Thus, there is high pressure outside and low pressure inside. Ear drum stays in the middle. The result is a “spun” ear drum. This situation makes us feel disturbed or hurt.
Most Important Ear Pressure Interval
People always think that if they are experiencing ear pressure, resulting a squeeze, they always think that they cannot scuba dive. In fact, this is not true. First, uneducated potential divers may not be equalizing their ears in a right way. They ask “Seaman, my ears hurt even I try to dive to 5 meters without scuba!“. In fact, most important range is 0 to 10 meters when we talk about ear pressure. Because, on the surface, pressure on us is 1 atm/bar. However, when we ascent to 10 meters, the pressure here is 2 atm/bar, resulting a 100% pressure change. From 10 meters to 20 meters, pressure changes from 2 atm/bar to 3 atm/bar, resulting a 50% pressure change. After the first 10 meters, it is easier/requires less effort to equalize.
How to Prevent Ear Squeeze?
Hold your nose with your thumb and index finger. Close your mouth and now exhale. The air you give will not be able to go out from your mouth and nose, they are closed. So, through the Eustachian tube, air will reach your middle air and make a pressure (reverse pressure towards the pressure made by the sea). This technique is called Valsalva Maneuver and it is the most frequently used one.
Another technique is called the Frenzel Maneuver. You close your nose and your throat (just like while you are drinking water). Move your tongue back and touch to the roof of your mouth with the tip of your tongue. This muscle movement will send air to your middle ear.
Last technique I want to introduce you is the Toynbee Maneuver. You are simply closing your nose and swallowing. This will send compressed air to the Eustachian tube.
There are more techniques, but these three are the most effective and commonly used ones in our dives.
What Makes Ear Equalization Difficult?
Most common difficulty while equalizing our ears is having a cold. Mucous in your Eustachian tube will prevent the air to reach your middle air. So, don’t dive if you have cold.
Other problems might be pre-existing. A nose operation would also affect your equalization. If you don’t have cold but still having difficulties equalizing your ears, don’t go on descending and consult your doctor right after. Two of my dive students had the “narrow Eustachian tube” problem, they both had an operation and are diving now.
Ear Equalization Tips
- Do a feet-first descent. This will help you a lot. If you feel that you are descending fast, you can kick your fins a little bit and slow down to have time to equalize.
- Make tests. Make a Valsalva Maneuver on the land before your dive, for example. You should feel the fullness in your middle air and your ear drums.
- Make frequent equalization. Do it like in every two meters during your descent.
- Look at the surface while descending. This will help to open your Eustachian tube.
- Don’t go on your ascend if you feel discomfort or pain in your ears. Stop, ascent a little bit till the pressure increases enough and retry it gently.
- Avoid fast descents.
- Don’t dive if you cannot equalize if you have pain/retried to equalize 2-3 times.
You don’t have to equalize your ears while ascent. Expanding air in your middle air will be going out from your mouth.
Remember that if you experience pain in your ears after your dive, always consult your physician. Barotraumas (pressure caused injury) is a serious situation.
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