Whilst some people are unable to clear their ears when scuba diving this is usually due to a medical problem as when clearing properly no pain is felt. In this article we will take a look at some of the most frequently asked questions concerning clearing or equalization the ears when scuba diving and hopefully help you learn how to equalise / clear your ears properly when diving.
Pressure in the ears
Without getting too technical, the level of water pressure increases as a diver descends. The outer ear is affected by the pressure however the middle ear remains constant. If a diver does not clear his ears as he descends the difference in pressure between the outer and middle ear will cause the eardrum to flex inwards. This not only causes discomfort but quite a lot of pain and can in some cases cause the eardrum to rupture. When the ears are cleared correctly no discomfort or pain will be felt and no problems will occur.
How Do Divers Clear Their Ears?
In order to clear your ears whilst diving the air pressure in your middle ear needs to be the same as that in the outer ear. This is done by manually opening your Eustachian tube and is actually easier than it sounds. Most divers find that they can clear their ears by pinching their nose and attempting to blow air through their nostrils. Alternative methods include pinching your nose and swallowing or wiggling your jaw around. If you do feel discomfort you should slowly ascend until the pain goes away and then try descending more slowly whilst attempting to clear again.
Clearing ears when ascending
Most of the time divers do not need to clear their ears whilst ascending however occasionally a diver may experience what is called a reverse block. This is when the eardrum bends outwards and can cause feelings of dizziness and vertigo. The first thing that you should do is stop ascending. Then try to clear your ears slowly. The best way to clear the ears when ascending is to pinch the nose and swallow; this will help to suck the extra air pressure out of the ear and remove the discomfort. When ascending make sure not to attempt any of the clearing techniques for descending as this can have the opposite effect and make the problem worse. If the above does not work, try to descent a couple of feet and slowly ascend again.
Why do some people struggle to clear more than others?
There are a few things that can affect how well a person can clear there ears while diving. Firstly children often have more trouble equalising than adults because their Eustachian tubes are not fully mature. In addition allergies, a deviated septum and congestion are all problems that can make equalising harder especially if any of these cause a blockage or inflammation in the Eustachian tube.
What Can a Diver Do to Make clearing Easier?
If you have problems clearing you should instantly try and maintain neutral buoyancy. You should then signal to your buddy that you have a problem and then ascend until you feel no discomfort (or descend if you are having problems clearing on ascent). Take a minute to relax your breathing and calm down before slowly descending again whilst trying a different technique. If you are still having problems descending try returning to the surface and clearing your nose and throat before trying again.
Under no circumstances should you take decongestants when diving as they can wear off whilst you are underwater and cause you further problems. Furthermore if your airways are congested your chest capacity may be too and this could lead to even more problems.