Diving: how to prevent water in your ears and improve your equalizing

Recently I went on a liveaboard with some extremely experienced divers, most of which had 400 or more dives logged. One of my problems with diving is that I am an extremely slow equalizer, which means that I have to descend extremely slowly, especially at around 5m and again at 10m depth. Another problem I have is that my ears tend to fill up with water after the dive and it takes some time to get rid of the water.

To get rid of the water, most sites will tell you to use ear drops (an alcohol / vinegar mix), pull on your earlobe, use a warm compress, inhale steam to open the sinusses, use a hot air dryer at least 10cm from your ears.

Most sites will tell you about the valsalva maneuver – which many people tend to do wrong because they blow too hard – or to swallow in order to clear your ears and equalize. For more and better ways to equalise, read this DAN article with 6 methods to equalize. An extra way to equalize is to close one nostril by pressing your finger on the side of the nose and then blowing out through the other one. Do this to the other nostril and after this equalising through any of the outlined techniques becomes much easier.

Prevention is the best form of action and this collection of divers had extremely good tips to help.

First is headgear – wear a (2mm if warm water, 7mm if cold water) hoodie or even just a buff scarf: cover your ears. This means a lot less water enters your ears and make equalising much easier.

Second is Sudofed. This comes in tablets (Sudafed Sinus Max Strength capsules with paracetamol, caffeine and phenylephrine) and a nose spray (blocked nose, Xylometazoline and hydrochloride). Take the tablets daily and spray 2 shots of nose spray into each nostril before the dive (yes, this is a lot more than the daily recommended intake if you dive four times on a day, but it’s over a short period of time and prevention here is worth it).

Third also helps is to suck on a few Smints – this exercises the jaw muscles and prepares your jaw for equalzing during the dive. It also helps against dry mouth and improves the taste due to the rubber of the regulator. Exercising the jaw muscles by chewing, sucking and moving your jaw around before the dive helps to equalise.

Before the dive itself there is a freediving method to empty your sinusses: pretend there is a mosquito on the tip of your nose and try to blow it off by blowing through your nose (softly!) for a minute. After a minute, pause for a minute. Repeat so that you have blown out three times. Keep some toilet paper handy, you may be surprised how much snot comes out! After having done this my descent times inproved incredibly rapidly.

To get rid of wax buildup in your ear, which may hinder equalization, take a syringe, fill it with slightly warm water and spray it directly into your ear at full force. You will very probably have to repeat this several (many!) times. Do it over a sink, as wax will come out first in tiny bits and then potentially as a clump. It’s messy. It sounds scary, but it works wonders. NB should a large piece come out, then it’s probably a good idea to wait a good while before diving as the tubes will need to settle back into their original position first.

Start your first equalization just before you get into the water.

Finally, you need to equalize much more often than you think you need to – don’t wait until you feel pressure on your eardrums, but continuously equalize as you are going down.

Hopefully you will enjoy diving a lot more with these tips!

Robin Edgar

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