There are various parts of the ear that are always prone to danger when underwater. They include the middle ear, Eustachian tube, outer ear and the eardrum. Divers must equalize their ears early and often to prevent problems like infections and hearing damage. One of the risks of SCUBA diving is ear barotrauma, an injury resulting from pressure that can cause rupturing of the ear drums. But the risk isn’t insurmountable — there are several ways to equalize that can instantly relieve pressure and prevent long term damage. Here are 3 of the most basic techniques for equalizing on a dive.
The Valsalva maneveur is the most basic technique for equalization, and will work the first time for the majority of divers. All it entails is pinching your nostrils closed and exhaling gently through your nose. It is crucial that your exhalation be gentle and intermittent, rather than one sharp burst, because pressure coming at the Eustachian tubes from the opposite direction has potential to cause real damage. If the Valsalva alone isn’t helping, try adding a step to perform the Toynbee maneuver.
This technique is a combination of Valsalva maneuver and swallowing, which may sound a bit like chewing gum and walking, but it gets easier with practice. You must remember to position your tongue on the roof of your mouth to make this technique work properly. The action of swallowing causes the tongue to move gently upward, which facilitates the muscle movement required to equalize the pressure. This is an effective and safe technique, as it does not squeeze the Eustachian tubes and does not need respiratory cycles to succeed.
If the Toynbee still isn’t equalizing that pressure, don’t despair — the Lowrey is slightly more advanced, but can produce immediate relief if done correctly. For the Lowrey, you’ll combine the pinching and exhalation of the Valsalva maneuver with the swallowing action of the Toynbee, effectively blowing out and swallowing at the same time. You should practice this technique topside first to familiarize yourself with what it feels like so you know you are doing it correctly underwater.
It’s important to never force yourself to continue descending if you haven’t equalized properly. If the methods aren’t working right away, ascend a couple of feet and try again. Make sure your dive buddy knows that you are having equalization issues so you don’t get left behind. Because every diver has equalization issues at one point or another, dive masters will typically linger a bit after everyone reaches the bottom to ensure everyone gets to equalize before pressing on. If you simply cannot equalize, do not feel bad about calling the dive. Another dive will always be there, but your precious gift of hearing may not!