How to Equalize Your Ears While Diving
Equalizing is one of those basic skills in diving that you get better at as you go, but it’s also something that tends to cause anxiety because it’s so essential. If you can’t equalize, you can’t go deeper. And the main problem is — not every tactic works for every diver. Like trying to get rid of the hiccups, everyone has a different strategy for equalizing, and it really just comes down to what works for you. If you’re having a difficult time clearing your ears, here are a few maneuvers you can try to find your go-to.
Test for the “Pop”
Before you even get in the water, make sure that your Eustachian tubes are open by swallowing or yawning and listening for the popping or clicking sound in both ears. If you don’t hear this in either ear, it means that one of your Eustachian tubes is not open. If this is the case, the pressure caused by diving could cause serious damage, so it’s best not to dive.
Take Care of Yourself
This one’s another pre-dive tactic: make sure your life outside of the water is good for your body, particularly when it comes to smoking and drinking. While having a drink now and then is no problem, tobacco and alcohol can increase the mucus your body produces, so you should avoid these for at least 24 hours before a dive, as well as any mucus-producing foods.
Keep Your Mask Clear
When there’s water in your mask, it can go up your nose and affect your mucus membranes. Keeping your mask clear of water may make it easier to keep your Eustachian tubes clear and to equalize your ears more consistently.
As you descend, the air in your Eustachian tubes starts to move upward, while any fluids move downward. By descending feet-first, you can take advantage of this natural effect and make the Valsalva maneuver* easier to perform.
Use a Line
Sometimes the reason it’s difficult to equalize is because you’re descending too quickly — this can be dangerous. Using an anchor or mooring line can help to control the pace at which you descend and allow you to clear your ears before you start to feel the pressure.
This one’s pretty easy. By looking up, you extend your neck and open up your Eustachian tubes, so performing the Valsalva maneuver is easier.
Don’t Push Yourself
Equalizing is not the place to try and push through the pain. Doing so can be extremely painful and can cause permanent damage. If you’re trying to descend and your ears are hurting, try to ascend a few feet and clear your ears again. If it’s not working, don’t try and go deeper. One dive is not worth the damage.
Overall, the most valuable thing you can do is to practice equalizing regularly. Ask other divers or your dive instructor for advice on how to improve your equalization and find a tactic that works for you.
*What’s the Valsalva maneuver? The Valsalva maneuver is the standard dive strategy of plugging your nose and blowing outward to “pop” your ears.