Posted on: 15 June 2017
Whether you're new to scuba diving or you've had ear problems when diving in the past, it's important to learn how to protect your eardrums from perforation. When you scuba dive, your body is subject to higher pressure levels than normal. This can cause barotrauma (high-pressure injury) to the ears, tearing the eardrums. Small eardrum perforations often heal on their own, but they can be very painful and some may require ear surgery to fix. Thankfully, following these 3 tips can help reduce your risk of perforation:
Equalise Your Ears
Deep in your middle ear, past your eardrum, is something called the Eustachian tube. Your Eustachian tubes are normally closed, but they need to be opened when diving to ensure that the pressure in your middle ear is equal to the pressure in your inner and outer ears. This prevents barotrauma from occurring.
You can open your Eustachian tubes by 'equalising' your ears. There are several ways to do this, and the Valsalva Manoeuvre is the most common method divers are taught. This involves pinching your nose and then blowing through it. While this technique is common, it's not always effective and can actually cause damage itself. A far easier and safer way to equalise is to swallow, as your ears will naturally equalise when you do. If this doesn't work for you, try the Toynbee Manoeuvre, where you swallow with your nose pinched. Once you hear the 'pop', you know your tubes are opening. Remember, you shouldn't descend until you know your ears are equalised.
Be Wary of Earplugs
While it may seem like earplugs would keep your ears safe while diving, this isn't always the case. Solid earplugs actually create a void in your ear canal that can't be equalised, leading to barotrauma and eardrum tearing. Many divers use vented earplugs without issue, but it's important to note that some people still experience problems when using them. Earplugs do have some benefits, including keeping the ears free of water or debris and stopping them from getting cold, so you may want to test them to see if they're right for you. When you first use earplugs, test them at a shallower depth than usual so you can see if you experience problems equalising before using them permanently.
Don't Dive When You're Sick
If you're suffering from a cold, allergies or a sinus infection, you may think a deep dive will lift your spirits. However, diving while you have one of these illnesses can increase your risk of eardrum damage. This is because respiratory sickness can make your Eustachian tubes swell up and become blocked, making it difficult (if not impossible) to equalise. If you don't want your eardrums to perforate, it's best to stay out of the water until you're well again.
Remember, if you experience signs of eardrum perforation (including pain, drainage, hearing loss, vertigo or tinnitus), you should consult an ENT specialist. While the tear should heal on its own, it's important to know if you have one because you'll need to keep an eye on it. If the perforation doesn't heal within a few weeks, you may need tympanoplasty -- a type of ear surgery that repairs the eardrum.Share