If you like diving, then you know that divers mostly experience injuries to do with the ear. Even though people tend to rank decompression illness as the most common diving injury, those who have gone deep below the water long enough know that the most common injuries have to do with the ear. Every diver experiences these kinds of injuries at one point or another.
The condition is also referred to as ‘ear squeeze’ by some divers. Diving injuries to the ear have to do with the air pressure in the tympanic cavity, at the middle section of the ear. If you are here because you keep asking the question”how do I stop my ears from hurting when I Scuba dive” then this is the article for you. We shall be focusing on ear injuries to do with pressure imbalance, the type know as barotrauma.
How barotrauma occurs
Pressure injuries of the ear are caused by an accumulation of blood and other fluids in the middle of the ear. It could also cause a ruptured eardrum due failure to equalize pressure around the middle section of the ear during diving or flying.
The tympanic cavity should always maintain a pressure balance with its outside surroundings. You can equalize this pressure when needed through the Eustachian tube, whose function is to provide an air passage to the throat from the middle ear. That is how you are able to balance this pressure by swallowing when you feel some discomfort.
If the Eustachian tube is obstructed, then equalization can be a problem especially during times when there is a quick pressure change like when on a quick descent. The pressure imbalance that occurs creates a vacuum in the middle of the ear that causes the eardrum and the tissues around to swell. Fluid then leaks from the ear and bleeding occurs from ruptured vessels. As this worsens, your active attempt to bring the air pressure back to normal. A Valsalva maneuver is ill advised in this case as it can damage the ear further.
How it manifests
When a diver cannot equalize the pressure in the middle of the ear during descent, they will first fell some discomfort. As the descent continues the discomfort, which feels like clogging in the ears becomes painful. Going any lower just worsens the pain and causes such pressure imbalance in the ear that the diver begins to bleed from the ear due to fluid build-up. As the condition worsens due to further descent the eardrum is likely to rupture which relieves the pain. A ruptured eardrum can cause hearing loss, vertigo and other infections due to exposure.
How barotrauma is diagnosed
Even though there are plenty of articles on the internet with a lot of valuable information, there is nothing like a doctor’s opinion when it comes to such injuries. Rather than wait longer and make it worse you are better of seeking the attention of a doctor whenever you feel the need to after a dive.
There are a series of questions used to identify what problems a diver is experiencing. These are meant not only to find out about ear squeeze but other injuries to the ears as well.
Some of the questions include:
• Whether the diver experienced any difficulty balancing air pressure during the dive.
• When exactly the symptoms were felt, whether during the dive or upon reaching the surface.
• Whether symptoms developed during descent or ascent.
• History of ear or sinus infection.
• How long the symptoms lasted.
After examination the doctor may detect a perforated eardrum, swelling and inflammation of the eardrum or you could be totally fine. Such injuries may also cause facial paralysis. Examining them does not need any blood work or X-rays.
How to manage barotrauma
The first and most obvious thing to do the moment you start experiencing the pain is to stop going lower and try to equalize ear pressure. You may need to ascend a number of feet to make equalization easier. If you are still not able to equalize ear pressure you are better of stopping the dive completely and staying safe.
If you feel this bulging in the ears it is best to stop diving altogether for a while. You should also get a nasal decongestant-these can be found as drops or sprays. Applying the decongestant will bring down swelling of the Eustachian tube and nasal mucosa enabling the Eustachian tube to open thus draining fluid from the middle of the ear. You should not, for any reason, put drops in the ear.
A physician’s evaluation is paramount for those who experiences fluid discharge or bleeding from the ear canal. This is also advised for divers who have experienced pain and fullness in the ear for longer than a few hours. Dizziness and vertigo are signs that the diver needs immediate evaluation by a medical practitioner. The diver may also need emergency services when vertigo and dizziness worsen.
Ways to avoid barotrauma
For the divers stilling asking the question “how to stop my ears from hurting when I Scuba dive” you should also note that there are times when you just can dive at all. You are advised to stay away from diving if you have a cold or congestion. It is also advisable to descend as slowly as you can. If you still feel the discomfort after several trials, you should call off the dive as you could sustain injury that will keep you from diving for the better part of the week.
Injuries of this kind should always be handled with the seriousness they deserve. Treating them lightly worsens the injuries sustained and can even cause permanent hearing loss. Divers, like any other sport enthusiasts, are advised to follow physician rules at every step for their own wellbeing. If a diver chooses to ignore instructions from their physician they can pay dearly for it. Taking the right precautions keeps you healthy and safe for the next dive.
PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS ARTICLE IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE BUT IS INFORMATION ONLY. IF YOU EXPERIENCE ANY MEDICAL ISSUES WHILE DIVING CONSULT A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL IMMEDIATLY.