Leaking Glove Leads to Ear Barotrauma

A distracted diver lost buoyancy control and experienced ear barotrauma.

Reported Story

The planned dive was in cold seawater (50-59°F, 10-15°C) using air. I was wearing a drysuit with dry gloves. During my descent I became aware that one of my dry gloves was leaking. While I attempted to rectify the problem, I was not aware that I continued to descend, and I sustained middle-ear barotrauma to my right ear. I was able to make a controlled ascent to the surface.


The scenario that the diver describes most likely occurred due to two factors that divers frequently underestimate. The first is buoyancy control. Had the diver established neutral buoyancy, he would not have continued to descend. The consequences of this diver’s situation were not serious, but in other circumstances it could have created a potentially dire situation. Whether the diver experiences an uncontrolled descent or ascent, the potential consequences of either could be catastrophic.

Additionally, the diver was distracted when attempting to address the leaking dry glove. This diver could have just as easily been taking a photograph, adjusting equipment or watching the marine life. The term “situational awareness” may sound trite, but this is an example of how a simple or even familiar distraction can produce a negative outcome.

It is reasonable to draw a parallel between driving a vehicle and diving. As drivers, we are consistently reminded to avoid activities such as texting or talking on a cell phone that can divert our attention from the task at hand. As a paramedic, I have personally witnessed tragic outcomes due to distracted diving. As divers, we cannot afford to be any less attentive. Proper buoyancy control is an essential safety skill that requires practice and our full concentration.

Marty McCafferty, EMT-P, DMT