Many newbie divers often experience ‘the squeeze.’ It’s the pressure on the ears during the descent, which can cause pain and even ear damage. To prevent this, you should know the best way to equalize ear pressure during your dives. Even swimmers experience ear pressure, and it’s important to deal with it as early as you feel the signs. This post will guide you on equalizing ear pressure and how to do it the right way.
The science behind the ‘ear squeeze’
Our ears are very delicate parts of our bodies. It houses the smallest bone in our bodies, the stapes located in the middle ear.
Ear pain is a common complaint among divers. As they descend into the water, the heightening pressure will cause changes inside the ear. The pressure builds up behind the eardrum or the middle ear. As the pressure increases, this part gets squeezed, thus the name for this phenomenon.
The middle ear is a hollow and air-filled portion of the ear. It connects to the Eustachian tube, a tunnel that links the ear to the back of our noses. The air that passes through this tube is what makes the middle ear equal to the pressure of the outside world.
So when the outside pressure changes, the Eustachian tube may not keep up easily. This will cause an imbalance in the middle ear pressure.
Surprisingly, ear squeeze takes place near the surface because it’s where the relative pressure changes drastically. For every 33 feet of descent, the diver experiences an increased 1 atmosphere of pressure.
Sometimes, divers are lucky if the Eustachian tube opens up and neutralizes the pressure naturally. But if it doesn’t, they need to do it manually. This is where the best way to equalize ear pressure comes in.
Signs that you’re experiencing ear squeeze
At the start, you’ll feel a fullness in your ear, but as you descend, you may start to experience the following symptoms:
*Internal ear pain
*Ringing in the ear
*Nausea or vomiting
Take note that if you fail to neutralize your ears during a dive, it can rupture the eardrums. When this happens, cold water will gush through the middle ear, triggering more serious symptoms like vomiting and hearing loss.
In worst cases, some divers will experience one-sided facial paralysis due to the pressure that a nerve inside the ear has experienced. Still, it’s very rare, and it usually happens to divers with underlying conditions.
Should you seek medical help due to an ear squeeze?
If you’re experiencing hearing loss after a dive, we recommend that you seek the help of a medical professional. It’s possible that you’ve ruptured your eardrums, or you’ve sustained internal ear injuries.
If symptoms like ear pain, vomiting, and disorientation persist, you must seek medical help as soon as possible.
Make sure that you tell the doctor when you feel the pain, either during ascent or descent. You should also note how long the symptoms are going on and if you have a history of ear infection.
You may have a swollen eardrum. There’s also a potential that there’s a hole in it. Nevertheless, many divers came out with intact eardrums but with mild swelling inside the ear. Usually, for cases of ear squeeze, blood tests and X-rays aren’t necessary.
NOTE: Do not self-medicate ear pain due to diving. You may make the matter worse if you do so.
Best Way to Equalize Ear Pressure – Tips to Follow
To prevent ear squeeze, we recommend that you follow these steps. For novice divers, it may take practice until this drill becomes second nature on your next dives:
Start equalizing before you dive
Before you even dive, you can condition your ears by starting early. Chewing gum an hour before the dive will help a lot. It’s the same logic as chewing gum when boarding a flight. Also, you can do the next steps even before you plunge into the water.
You can also massage your Eustachian tubes. Apply pressure on the groove located between your jaw and ear lobe. Slide your fingers up and down using mild pressure. Two to four times would do for this massage. Overdoing it will cause pain.
Descend with your feet first
If you’re a newbie and have experienced an ear squeeze before, it will help dive with your feet first. The science behind this is that you’d exert 50% more effort in doing the Valsalva Maneuver with your head down as compared with your head up.
The Valsalva Maneuver is the process of equalizing your ears by pinching your nose and trying to exhale through it. Below, we discussed this maneuver in detail.
By looking up, your Eustachian tubes open up quickly. So as you descend, it will help if you crane your neck up to let your Eustachian tube open and equalize the pressure in the middle ear.
Pause if it hurts
If you’re starting to feel pain inside your ears, you should swim up a little and allow your ears to adjust. Your Eustachian tube can get shut by the difference between the inner ear and outside world pressure. Swimming up a few feet will make a big difference. Once the pain is gone, you can equalize and swim back down.
If the pain doesn’t go away or becomes unbearable, you should signal to your dive buddies so they can abort the dive. Take note that it’s never too late to abort a dive if you’re not feeling well.
Pinch your nose and try to exhale from it
To equalize your ear underwater, pinch your nose and try to exhale from it. This is called the Valsalva Maneuver. You can do so with your mask on, or you can block your nostrils using the mask skirt. Make sure that your mouth is shut tight.
By doing this, you’re causing overpressure in your throat. This will force the air to go up to your Eustachian tubes. As the tube opens up, it will equalize the middle ear.
However, you have to be careful when doing this maneuver. First of all, don’t blow too hard. The Valsalva Maneuver has to be done gently until you feel your ear tubes opening up. You’d feel a mild pop or an expanding feeling.
Please take note that it’s easy to blow too hard to the point of damaging something inside your ear. Also, blowing too much will ruin your internal fluid pressure. This can rupture your round windows. Lastly, never hold the Valsalva Maneuver for more than five seconds.
Moreover, we want to warn you that if your Eustachian tubes are shut tight due to pressure differential, the Valsalva Maneuver may not work. It would be best if you swam up a little to relax your ear muscles.
Equalize multiple times
It’s not enough that you equalize only ones. It would help if you did so repeatedly as you descend. This way, your ear can adjust to the change in pressure. Doing it repeatedly will make it a habit on your next dive.
But then again, avoid blowing too hard or too fast. Just do it gently to prevent any hiccups during your dive.
Clear your mask
Another thing you have to do to keep your ears equalized is to clear your mask. As you descend, water can get in your mask, which will affect your visibility and ear pressure. Also, your mask may become foggy.
To do this, lift your mask slightly from the top, then put it back right away. The goal is to let a small amount of water get in. After that, exhale through your nose multiple times until all the water is expelled through the nostril hole in your mask. It would be best if you looked up a little when blowing the water out.
You may need to clear your mask several times during the dive. If you’re a newbie, we recommend practicing this drill on a swimming pool first.
Still, confused on how to clear your mask? Christian Wedoy shows us how to do it in this video:
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How is the Frenzel Maneuver different from the Valsalva Maneuver?
A: When you do the Valsalva Maneuver, you’re using the air in your lungs to equalize your ear pressure. On the other hand, the Frenzel Maneuver uses the air in your mouth to do the same thing. Between the two, Valsalva gives more pressure to open the Eustachian tube.
Q: What is the Toynbee Maneuver?
A: There are many known methods in equalizing ear pressure, one of which is the Toynbee Maneuver. To do this, you’d swallow while pinching your nose. This will allow air pressure to ease so your ears will be equalized. However, this isn’t widely used by divers.
Q: What should I do when my Eustachian tube gets clogged?
A: If your Eustachian tubes get blocked after a dive, you must seek medical help. Usually, it will go away without treatment. Still, doctors may prescribe a treatment that will speed up your recovery. Also, it will rule out other potential issues and infections on your ear.
Q: Will my head hurt when I experience ear squeeze?
A: If your head starts hurting during a dive, it’s not ear squeeze but carbon dioxide toxicity. This happens when too much CO2 builds up inside the body due to hypoventilation. You must signal this to your buddy so the both of you can ascend if need be.
Q: My ears hurt after jumping into the water. What happened?
A: This is called ear barotrauma. The sudden change in pressure will cause an injury or imbalance in your ear. Take note that this condition can be acute or chronic. It’s best to seek medical attention to deal with the problem.
The best way to equalize ear pressure is only possible if you’re willing to practice it. Diving is a serious activity, and it entails stringent safety protocols. You must be aware of what to do under specific conditions, just like the ear squeeze that we discussed here. And if you feel unwell after a dive, always seek a doctor to diagnose and treat the problem. Earaches and infections are always present while diving and one way to avoid these risks is by wearing earplugs. Check out this blog post and find out 6 Best Diving Earplugs – 2022 UPDATE