Ear injuries are one of the most common ailments associated with scuba diving. Pressure differences between the middle and outer ear and the environment can cause a painful squeezing sensation commonly known as “ear squeeze.” Not only can this condition result in shortened dive time, it may cause more serious issues such as hearing loss, dizziness, ringing in the ears and other pressure-related injuries.
General ear care and preventative maintenance
There are several preventative measures that divers can take to ensure that the ear stays safe and healthy while diving.
Use either a commercial product designed to remove water from the ear canal ,or a mixture of half white vinegar and half rubbing alcohol after a diving excursion to gently clean and dry the ear canal. This can also help to prevent swimmer’s ear.
Breathe fresh, clean air before descending into the water. Since the eustachian tube connects the eardrum to the throat, and ultimately the respiratory system, avoiding irritants such as boat fumes and cigarette smoke will help divers avoid inflammation and pain.
Drink lots of water to thin mucus so that it doesn’t clump and block the eustachian tube.
It is recommended to avoid dairy products for two days before a dive as it can contribute to thick mucus.
Don’t dive with congestion or a cold when there is already a buildup of fluid in the throat and eardrums. Congestion causes a shrinking in the tubes, which makes it harder to force in air and equalize pressure.
Use a nasal rinse or oral decongestant to help thin the mucosal lining and flush out irritants that can block nasal passages. Check with your physician before taking any medication, even over the counter, before using the medication while diving
Ear pain while diving
If scuba divers experience ear pain during, or after a dive, there are a few safety measures they can take. The most common method of relieving ear pressure while diving is to stop descending (or even ascend a couple feet), and then close the mouth, pinch the nose and gently blow air into the mouth and nose. This aids in alleviating built-up pressure in the ears. Do not blow too hard as this can cause permanent ear damage.
Sometimes it is best to let the pressure build a little bit before trying to equalize, but not to the point pain is felt. Pushing air through too often can stretch the eardrum and damage the eustachian tube, causing pain as well as making it even harder to equalize with each dive. A general rule of thumb is to equalize every five feet of water depth.
Diving feet first is another ear safety technique that can prove helpful to divers. When diving head first, gravity naturally pulls all of the fluid into the head where it accumulates in the eustachian tubes and swells. If a diver descends feet first, the fluid is pulled toward the feet and away from the head.
Another method to try when equalizing your ears becomes difficult is, to tilt the head to the side. The tilting action can help to stretch out the tubes and allow them to open: you may also try to swallow. Finally, if the ears cannot be cleared, divers should ascend to the surface before permanent damage occurs.
Nothing can ruin a good day of diving faster than ear problems. Following a few simple preventative steps and implementing an equalizing routine will go a long way in eliminating pain to the ear while scuba diving.