Sports And Hobbies: Protecting Your Ears While Scuba Diving

Ear injuries do occur in diving, but they don't have to be common. Following a few simple guidelines can keep your ears safe and healthy.

Few experiences can compare to immersing yourself in an alien environment. Floating weightless in an inhospitable environment among life as alien as anything found in Sci-Fi is about as tranquil and serene as life gets. However, there are also few things that can ruin the experience like the pain from an unequalized ear canal.

Scuba diving isn't without its risks, but you can avoid most potential dangers. By far, the most common injury involves a failure to equalize the pressure between the inner and outer ear when descending or surfacing. Where problems occur are when divers fail to equalize early or try to continue a dive despite problems clearing their ears. Fortunately, it's also a simple injury to avoid if you follow a few basic rules.

Control Your Descent

Maintaining a controlled rate of descent can keep you out of trouble to begin with. The first 10 to 15 feet are the most critical portion of the dive for ear injuries. Remember, the pressure increases as you descend adding around 1 atmosphere for every 33 feet, however the largest changes in water pressure occur in those first 15 feet. Regulating your descent rate allows you to recognize "ear squeeze" early and equalize more easily.

Stop at the First Sign of Trouble

If you do begin to experience ear squeeze, stop your descent immediately. Signal your dive buddy to make him aware of the problem, then try to equalize the pressure. If you're unable to equalize, ascend a few feet and try again. If you continue to have problems clearing your ears, end the dive. It's always better to cut a dive short than risk rupturing an eardrum.

Only Dive in Good Health

Whether your certifying agency was PADI, NAUI or one of the others, you've been hearing this one since the first day of classroom theory. It's never a good idea to dive when you've been sick. The drainage and sinus blockage that accompanies most illnesses will make it nearly impossible to equalize the pressure on your middle ear. Besides, are you really going to enjoy your dive when you start out feeling miserable?

Apart from the pressures exerted by the depth of the water, one of the most dangerous risks to our ears comes from the diver himself. Confused? Let me explain. The most common technique a diver uses to equalize the pressure in the middle ear and in the ear canal is a modified Valsalva maneuver. It's simple in practice --just hold your nose and blow gently. However, the danger is that it's tempting to blow too forcefully try to clear an ear squeeze. A too forceful Valsalva maneuver can rupture the round window, leading to vertigo, disorientation and possibly loss of hearing.

While the risks may seem a little intimidating to the newcomer, remember that the potential problems are just that, potential. With the proper training and care for the safety guidelines, serious ear injuries are almost nonexistent. After all, there's a beautiful and largely unseen world waiting just below the waves. How can anyone resist the allure?

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