Myth debunked: Diving is not good for me…my ears hurt!

Have you ever been snorkelling? Perhaps you are curious about the wonderful, magical world that lies underneath the oceans, but whenever you try to dive, your ears hurt and you stop immediately. This could also potentially harm the delicate mechanisms of your ear. Your inside voice tells you that you will never be able to take up diving, because your ears hurt upon submerging just a little bit underwater.

So why do our ears hurt underwater? Ears hurt because the surrounding pressure acting inwards on the eardrum (due to the surrounding water pushing onto it) increases with depth. Unless this pressure is equalised by applying an equal pressure outwards, the eardrum keeps being pushed inwards. This results in increasing discomfort and pain, which is relieved upon ascending to the surface.

However, before even venturing into the water, divers are taught how to equalise this external pressure by making use of a number of techniques. One technique is to use your throat muscles to pull your ear tubes open by swallowing. This is something that one unknowingly does a multitude of times throughout the day, and if you were to pay attention, you would hear a faint pop with the next gulp. However, with diving, one would require paying more attention to hear that popping sound even before going down into the water. Another technique is pinching the nose while gently blowing out through it. This Valsalva manoeuvre forces the eustachian tubes in your ear to open. Without equalising the pressure, everyone would feel pain, and nobody would be able to dive. 

Some people find it easier than others to equalise, but done properly, everybody can achieve it. The secret is to balance the pressure via proper techniques.

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