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Methods to Equalize Your Ears While Scuba Diving
Greg - 8/18/2009 4:41 PM
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Category: Educational
Comments: 10
Methods to Equalize Your Ears While Scuba Diving

VALSALVA MANEUVER: This is the method most divers learn. Pinch your nose and gently blow through your nose. The resulting overpressure in your throat usually forces air up your Eustachian tubes.

But the Valsalva maneuver has three problems: It does not activate muscles which open the Eustachian tubes, so it may not work if the tubes are already locked by a pressure differential. It’s all too easy to blow hard enough to damage something.

TOYNBEE MANEUVER: With your nose pinched, swallow. Swallowing pulls open your Eustachian tubes while the movement of your tongue, with your nose closed, compresses air against them.

LOWREY TECHNIQUE: A combination of Valsalva and Toynbee. While closing your nose, blow and swallow at the same time.

EDMONDS TECHNIQUE: While tensing the soft palate (the soft tissue at the back of the roof of your mouth) and throat muscles and pushing the jaw forward and down, do a Valsalva maneuver.

FRENZEL MANEUVER: Pinch your nose and close the back of your throat as if straining to lift a weight. Then make the sound of the letter "K." This forces the back of your tongue upward, compressing air against the openings of your Eustachian tubes.

VOLUNTARY TUBAL OPENING: Tense the muscles of the soft palate and the throat while pushing the jaw forward and down as if starting to yawn. These muscles pull the Eustachian tubes open. This requires a lot of practice, but some divers can learn to control those muscles and hold their tubes open for continuous equalization.

Practice Makes Perfect
Divers who experience difficulty equalizing may find it helpful to master several techniques. Many are difficult until practiced repeatedly, but this is one scuba skill you can practice anywhere. Try practicing in front of a mirror so you can watch your throat muscles.

When To Equalize
Sooner, and more often, than you might think. Most authorities recommend equalizing every two feet of descent. At a fairly slow descent rate of 60 feet per minute, that’s an equalization every two seconds. Many divers descend much faster and should be equalizing constantly.

The good news: as you go deeper, you’ll have to equalize less often-another result of Boyle’s Law. For example, a descent of six feet from the surface will compress your middle ear space by 20 percent and produce pain. But from 30 feet you’d have to descend another 12.5 feet to get the same 20 percent compression.

When you reach your maximum depth, equalize again. Though the negative pressure in your middle ear may be so small that you don’t feel it, if it’s maintained over several minutes it can gradually cause barotrauma.

Tips For Easy Equalizing
1. Listen for the "pop." Before you even board the boat, make sure that when you swallow you hear a "pop" or "click" in both ears. This tells you both Eustachian tubes are open.

2. Start early. Several hours before your dive, begin gently equalizing your ears every few minutes. "This has great value and is said to help reduce the chances of a block early on descent, Chewing gum between dives seems to help,

3. Equalize at the surface. "Pre-pressurizing" at the surface helps get you past the critical first few feet of descent, where you’re often busy with dumping your BC and clearing your mask. It may also inflate your Eustachian tubes so they are slightly bigger.

4. Descend feet first. Air tends to rise up your Eustachian tubes, and fluid-like mucus tends to drain downward. Studies have shown a Valsalva maneuver requires 50 percent more force when you’re in a head-down position than head-up.

5. Look up. Extending your neck tends to open your Eustachian tubes.

6. Use a descent line. Pulling yourself down an anchor or mooring line helps control your descent rate more accurately. Without a line, your descent rate will probably accelerate much more than you realize. A line also helps you stop your descent quickly if you feel pressure, before barotrauma has a chance to occur.

7. Equalize often, trying to maintain a slight positive pressure in your middle ears.

8. Stop if it hurts. Don’t try to push through pain. Your Eustachian tubes are probably locked shut by pressure differential, and the only result will be barotrauma. If your ears begin to hurt, ascend a few feet and try equalizing again.

9. Avoid milk. Some foods can increase your mucus production. Dairy products can cause a fourfold increase.

10. Avoid tobacco and alcohol. Both tobacco smoke and alcohol irritate your mucus membranes, promoting more mucus that can block your Eustachian tubes.

11. Keep your mask clear. Water up your nose can irritate your mucus membranes, which then produce more of the stuff that clogs.


ScottUgly - 12/17/2009 11:56 PM
Just wanted to add a link to Dr. Kay’s site. There is a lot of helpful info there. The video is long but very informative. He demonstrates several techniques for equalizing.
jar5755 - 9/11/2009 10:50 PM
thanks for the 411 on clearing like everybody else i 2 have bad problems clearing. like others i 2 always look an listen 4 helpful hints. so let me thank everybody that helps with this. tanks alot greg LIVE 2 DIVE
John_The_Photo_Nut - 9/06/2009 5:26 PM
Another suggestion, particularly for those afflicked with allergies. I got this from an ear nose throat specialist. Forget Sudafed, it apparently doesn’t help the Eustation Tubes to clear. He recomended Otrivin, which apparently opens up the area around the tubes. Works very effectively for me, particualry in the summer when I’m running around with congestion most days anyways.
CrimelessRaver - 9/04/2009 3:11 PM
Wow Greg! Thank you so much for posting this! I always have problems EQing my ears, and have to descend very slowly. I try all different methods, yet find some of them hard to do with the Reg. in my mouth. Some of the steps you listed here are very helpful and new to me. I’m looking forward to getting in the pool and trying them out. And the info about not smoking or doing dairy before a dive. I knew they caused more mucus but never even thought about the effect that had on my diiving!
One problem I have when I am trying to EQ my ears, is when I when I go to clear them sometimes one ear will not clear, or it will make this whining noise and I feel small little bubbles finally blowing out of the ear. Does this happen to anyone else? I imagine this is due to incorrectly EQing my ears. Hopefully these new techniques will eliminate this.
diverdown53 - 8/22/2009 5:52 PM
Thanks Greg for the info-I too have problems, and sometimes days after as well. Good article-thanks Kathy diverdown53
scubalarry54 - 8/21/2009 3:41 PM
Good job Greg. Some I knew of and some I did not. Agree with the post this needs to be taught in course material. Not just one method but all.
drifter12 - 8/20/2009 9:21 AM
Thank you for this information ! I always have trouble clearing and am looking forward to trying some of these methods. Ted J>
mdj1122 - 8/19/2009 3:50 PM
I think they should teach more ways to equalize in Open Water classes. I didn’t realize that it wasn’t the "best" way to do it.
seagurl - 8/19/2009 12:32 AM

Hey Greg, thanks for posting this blog, its very educational. My ear is my number 1 problem while diving. It really hurts even if i often try to equalize. I’ll print this info to read on and to apply while diving. :D

More power in your website :). tc

timengle - 8/18/2009 6:17 PM
Thanks Greg. Since I began diving, this has ben an issue for me during my dives. Once at depth I do fine. It seems like I have issues days after the dives as well, nothing serious, but still feel things. This article has really helped me to understand many things, and I will be trying some of these techniques in my diving this week.