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Do your ears hurt when you dive? 9 tips for equalizing pressure in ears when diving.

Updated: Mar 3, 2023

If you are already a diver, you know how important it is to equalize your ears.

If you are not yet a diver, it will be one of the first lessons your instructor will give you on your first dive.

You do not balance your ears, you do not dive... It's as simple as that.

That is why it is very important, and we must pay attention so that we don't suffer any damage.


Why do we have to balance our ears and air spaces while diving?

When we dive, we are exposed to high pressure. 😱

At only 10 meters, we have twice the pressure of the atmosphere at sea level.

The pressure squeezes the air and this affects us on several levels: Air consumption, Nitrogen concentration, and exposure to Oxygen...

But in this post, I am going to focus on the compression of air spaces in the ears and sinuses.

Equalizing them is easy under normal conditions, but there are some people who have difficulty with it.

Under pressure.

When the ambient pressure changes (increases or decreases), the air volume in these air spaces also changes, depending on whether there is less pressure or more pressure in the environment.

When we descend during a dive, the ambient pressure increases, compressing the air in our middle ear and sinuses.

At first, we feel pressure on the eardrum and if we keep descending without compensating we will feel pain both in the eardrum and in the area between the eyes.

If you keep descending without equalizing, you can cause some damage and even a ruptured eardrum.

That is why it is necessary to equalize this pressure by blowing air into the ears and sinuses.

It is very important to do this many times and from the beginning of the dive, as it is in the first 10 meters where the pressure change is the highest.

This is the way to equalize the pressures.

Always remember to compensate many times and don't ever attempt to compensate with too much strength

If you can't release the pressure, ascend and try it again.

Two easy methods to equalize the ears.

Compensating the ears and sinuses means that we have to introduce air to increase the volume of air and equalize the pressure.

There are divers who achieve this naturally without doing anything at all... or so they say 🤔.

I will explain 2 methods to achieve this if you are not one of these divers:

1/ Valsalva manoeuvre.

An easy one.

Pinch your nose with your fingers and blow through it slowly.

Out of the water, it is easy to keep your mouth closed, but when we dive, we hold the regulator in our mouth, and we cannot seal our lips.

Put your tongue against the roof of your mouth to close the airway and let the airflow into your ears. This will force air into your middle ear, through the Eustachian tubes, and into your sinuses.

The volume of air increases and equalizes the pressure.

It is important to always do this maneuver gently and frequently until you feel a "pop" in the eardrum.

If you can't equalize, don't keep going down, and don't force it.

You can damage the round window in your inner ear.

Just go up and try again.

2/ Open the Eustachian tubes.

Move your jaw from side to side and swallow saliva.

This allows air to enter the middle ear.

This method is a bit more complicated if you are not an experienced diver.

8 tips that can help you if you have trouble equalizing.

1. You should not dive with congestion.

If you have a cold, flu, allergy, sinusitis, or any situation that causes congestion, avoid diving. Your airways will be blocked, and it will be difficult or impossible to equalize.

Also, do not dive into the effects of inhalers or congestion medications.

Their effects may disappear while you dive and cause a reverse block.

Don't worry.

Later I will tell you what this is.

2. Warm up your ears before diving.

I don't mean to put them on the heater or in front of the fireplace.

Practice the Valsalva maneuver, move your jaw for a while, or even better, chew gum before going into the water.

This helps prevent blocking and will make it easier for you to equalize when you are descending.

3. Start equalizing at the surface.

This way you put air in your ears, and it is easier to equalize in the first few meters of the descent, which are the most critical.

4. Descend with your feet down and your head up.

The Valsalva maneuver is easier to perform in this position. And also this way you control the descent because you can kick your fins to go up if you need to.

5. Chin up and look up.

This opens the Eustachian tubes and makes it easier for air to enter.

6. Descend gradually to the bottom.

Descend slowly with the bottom level if you dive from the beach, or with a line if you have more than 2 meters of water below you.

This will give you a slow, controlled descent and more time to equalize correctly.

7. Never dive with earplugs.

If you use them you create extra airspace in the outer ear, between the eardrum and the earplug, which cannot be equalized because there is no way to get air into it.

There are special perforated earplugs for diving and diving goggles with a kind of earmuffs that communicate with the main space of the mask, which can be equalized by exhaling air into the mask through the nose.

8. Don't dive with a hood that is too tight.

It can have the same effect as earplugs and create airspace in the ear canal which, again, is not possible to equalize.

9. Don't stress.

If you get stressed, you will be overwhelmed and will not be able to equalize.

Relax, try slowly and if you can't descend, abort the dive.

It's OK. If you can't compensate, it's better not to force the situation and stop the dive.

Remember that your safety comes first.

It may be a good idea to consult a doctor who specializes in hyperbaric medicine to make sure your ears are OK to dive.

Reverse block. What is it?

A reverse block occurs when air that we have introduced into the air spaces to equalize on the way down becomes trapped and cannot escape, causing pressure and pain on the way up.

Ascending air expands and can cause the opposite effect.

This happens because we are diving with congestion.

In this case, what we MUST NEVER DO is equalize our ears as we have done descending.

This way, what we get is to introduce even more air, and it is worse.

Descend a little until the pressure or pain disappears, and then ascend again very slowly to give the air time to come out.

There is no other way.

Now you know what you can do if you have trouble equalizing your ears when diving.

The most important thing in this or any diving situation is to stay calm and not get overwhelmed.

Don't stress because the group is waiting for you or because you want to make the dive.

It's something that can happen to anyone who dives.

And remember.

You dive to enjoy yourself.

If you are not going to enjoy it, don't do the dive.

Do you know any other tips?

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