How To Equalise Your Ears When Scuba Diving
This is a series of tips and tricks for How To Equalise Your Ears When Scuba Diving. If you are having trouble equalising, then we have some simple steps that will help you to beat the squeeze! Have ever thought:
- Why do my ears hurt when I am scuba diving?
- Why can't I equalise?
- Is there a better way to equalise?
- How come some days I can equalise my ears and others I can't?
- How do some people make equalising during descent look super easy?
If so, this post is for you. We are sure there are other questions that may have lead you to this post. But these are some of the top questions we get asked about equalising when scuba diving.
The post was developed by Nick Smith, one of our PADI Pro's who has spent his adult life as a medical professional. In his spare time, Nick is an active part of the Scuba Leeds Dive Team, helping divers become better at the sport they love.
Before we start, we want to point out, there is no one single way to equalise. You may find a combination of these techniques work for you while equalising during descent. We just wanted to share some techniques that divers have used in the past and will continue to use going forward. If you have another method, great, let us know in the comments below.
Lets get started
The steps in for how to equalise your ears when scuba diving include:
- Practice, Practice, Practice
- Equalising Early And Often
- The Valasalva Manoeuvre
- The Toynbee Manoeuvre
- The Valsalva & Toynbee Combination
- The Edmonds Technique
- The Controlled Tubal Opening Techniqiue
- Choose Your Pre-Dive Food Carefully
Each step will start with an image, then will be followed by a short description of how to complete the technique. Lets dive in.
How to Use This Guide
DISCLAIMER: You may feel like a bit of a muppet if you start attempting these techniques in front of non-divers. They will think that all divers are more crazy than then already think we are as divers hahaha.
Seriously though, all you need is to do is read the steps, then have a go. Some of the techniques will take some practice to master. This should take between 5 and 10 minutes.
You can Download a PDF version of this guide to reference back to later.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Two of the most common concerns for new divers is not being able to equalise their ears correctly which leads to their ears hurting while scuba diving. This is more common than you may think. Many experienced divers will have had equalisation problems at one point or another. Even after years and years of diving, problems can arise during a descent (we will explain more about why this is later).
There are some simple things that you can do to help equalise and to ease the pain. As with most things in diving, practice makes perfect, if not perfect, then substantially better than not practicing.
Repetition is the key here. 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. The are a few things that you should try first.
All of these techniques we are about to share with you are able to be practised at home sat on the sofa. Even without being in a swimming pool or on a dive you can continue to develop your dive skills. Yes, we admit, your family may look at your strangely while you try the Controlled Tubal Opening Technique for the first time while watching Netflix, but the time spent practicing will pay dividends when you hit the water.
Equalising Early And Often
Even during a try dive, students are taught to equalise before they feel any pain or discomfort. This is particularly important in the first 5m or so. As instructors we emphasise this and continually remind students to equalise during descent. It is only when you look at the physics and physiology hand in hand that you start to appreciate why this is so important at the start of the descent.
The first 5 metres of water, the very start of your descent, is where rapid gas volume changes within the ear. Failing to eqaulise in the first moments of your dive will do two things:
- Make it harder to equalise
- Pain and discomfort begins
You can prevent this by preparing to equalise the moment you leave the surface using any of the following techniques.
The Valasalva Manoeuvre
The Valasalva Manoeuvre 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.
The Toynbee Manoeuvre
The Toynbee Manoeuvre is the next equalisation technique for scuba divers to use if the Valsalva Manoeuvre isn't working or you. This is done by pinching your nose whilst swallowing. The downward movement pulls your Eustachian tubes down, extending them and releasing pressure, while your tongue compresses the air in the tubes.
The Valsalva & Toynbee Combination
One method that divers use to increase the effectiveness of equalising is for you to pinch your nose and blow while swallowing at the same time. This is a combination of the Valsalva and Toynbee methods.
The Edmonds Manoeuvre
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.
The Controlled Tubal Opening Technique
The Controlled Tubal Opening method is an advanced equalisation technique that will take some practice. This is achieved by opening the eustacian tubes and keeping them open during a descent. This technique is useful when doing lots of repetitive dives, such as on training dives or liveaboard.
This method is achieved by tensing the muscles of the soft palate and the throat while pushing the jaw forward and down as if starting to yawn. Once you are in this position, hold it once the tubes feel open. With the tubes pulled open you can continuously equalise during your descent.
Pre-Dive Habits To Consider
If you know that you already struggle to equalise, consider chewing some gum before your div. This encourages you to swallow and mimics the Valasalva Manoeuvre. Just make sure you spit the gum out before your dive.
Equalising dense mucus is much more difficult and some foods increase the amount of mucus produced these include milk in particular.Smoke and alcohol both cause irritation to your mucus membrane, that leads to increased production of mucus. Water in the nose will also cause this irritation, so it is important that you keep your mask clear of water.