How To Equalise Your Ears While Scuba Diving
If you are having trouble equalising, then we have some simple that will help you to beat the squeeze!
“My ears hurt” or “I can’t equalise”
These are two of the most common concerns new divers approach me to talk about. So to help I have done a bit of an internet trawl and put together this information sheet to offer some words of advice. My ears hurt as well when I first started diving and occasionally they still do, you are not alone. However, there are things that you can do to help and to ease the pain. With much in diving, practice makes perfect, or better. Don’t think that after a couple of goes in the pool or even at open water that just because your ears hurt you have to give up diving or even go and see your doctor. There are a few things that you should try first.
Equalise early and frequently
I often chew gum before diving as this encourages you to swallow and mimics the Valasalva manoeuvre. This is a moderately forceful exhalation against a closed airway. Close your mouth, pinch your nose closed and blow out. You should be able to “pop” both ears. Your dive mask has a flexible nose cover to allow you to pinch your nose whilst diving. With this and most other methods if you look up whilst completing them this extends and opens your Eustachian tubes. These are the tubes that link the upper throat to the middle ear. Conversely all of the techniques are less effective head down. So if you have problems always ascend feet down and use a descent line to help you control the descent so you can stop if you feel a squeeze. Be careful not to squeeze too hard when equalising, this can cause harm to your ears and will actually cause the Eustachian tubes to close. Little and often is key and if you feel any discomfort, ascend slightly to reduce the squeeze and try again.
If the Valasalva manoeuvre doesn’t work for you
If this doesn't work for you, try to swallow. This is known as the Toynbee manoeuvre. This is done by pinching your nose whilst you swallow. The downward movement pulls your Eustachian tubes down extending them and releasing any pressure, while your tongue compresses the air in the tubes. You can also blow and swallow at the same time whilst holding your nose, combining both of the previous methods. If you still find that you are having difficulties, there is also the Edmonds Technique. I find this difficult to explain but will give it a go. Tense up your throat and roof of your mouth push your jaw down and then forward (it’s a bit like a reverse yawn) then blow out as you do in the Valasalva manoeuvre.
I taught myself how to open my tubes and keep them open during a descent and I use this when doing lots of repetitive dives like during training or on a live aboard. This is known as 'Controlled Tubal Opening'. For this you need to tense the muscles of the soft palate and the throat while pushing the jaw forward and down as if starting to yawn and then hold it once it feels open. With the tubes pulled open you can continuously equalise during your descent.