Scuba Diver Tips for Easy Ear Equalization
By John Flanders, Master Instructor / Instructor Trainer
April 9, 2009 - Posted to AcademyOfScuba.com
- Listen for your ear to "click." Before you even board the boat, make sure that when you swallow you hear a "pop" or "click" in both ears. This tells you both Eustachian tubes are open.
- Start clearing your ears early. Even a couple of hours before your dive. Gently, begin equalizing your ears every few minutes. This has great value and is said to help reduce the chances of a block early on descent. Chewing gum between dives seems to help.
- Equalize at the surface. Clear your ears just as your head breeches the surface. "Pre-pressurizing" at the surface helps get you past the critical first few feet of descent, where you’re often busy with dumping your BC and clearing your mask. It may also inflate your Eustachian tubes so they are slightly bigger.
- Descend feet first and head up. Air naturally rises. Use physics to your advantage and allow air to rise up your Eustachian tubes. Another advantage is if there is any fluid build up, it will most likely drain downward. Studies have shown a Valsalva maneuver requires 50 percent more force when you’re in a head-down position than head-up.
- Look up. Extending your neck tends to open your Eustachian tubes. Try it now, you can feel the tension on your neck, up to your inner ear.
- Use a descent line. Pulling yourself down an anchor or mooring line helps control your descent rate more accurately. Without a line, your descent rate will probably accelerate much more than you realize. A line also helps you stop your descent quickly if you feel pressure, before barotrauma has a chance to occur.
- Equalize early and often, trying to maintain a slight positive pressure in your middle ears. This is your mother’s old ounce of prevention. Prevent a problem before it occurs.
- Stop if it hurts. Don’t try to push through pain. Your Eustachian tubes are probably locked shut by a pressure differential, and the only result will be barotrauma. If your ears begin to hurt, ascend a few feet and try equalizing again.
- Avoid dairy products. Some foods can increase your mucus production. Dairy products can cause a fourfold increase.
- Avoid tobacco and alcohol. Both tobacco smoke and alcohol irritate your mucus membranes, promoting more mucus that can block your Eustachian tubes.
- Keep your mask clear. Water up your nose can irritate your mucus membranes, which then produce more of the stuff that clogs.
Most importanly, keep diving. The more you dive, the easier clearing your ears becomes. Phoenix has some great dive sites, use them often and keep your skills fresh. If you don’t like "fresh water" diving, then get in a pool and practice there. When you are at your favorite destination, you will have more fun if you are better prepared.