Ear Equalization Guidelines for Scuba Divers

Have you ever experienced an ear problem when scuba diving? You’re not alone. Nearly 50 percent of calls to the Divers Alert Network (DAN) Emergency Hotline are related to ear problems.

Six Different Ways to Equalize

Our infographic (shown below) describes two of the most common ways divers equalize their ears, but there are at least six different methods. Read a description of all six in our Smart Guide to Equalization, and try practicing them in front of a mirror.

How to Avoid the Most Common Ear Injury

Middle ear barotrauma is the most common pressure-related ear injury. Your middle ears are dead air spaces connected to the outer world by the Eustachian tubes. Equalizing your ears balances the pressure in that dead space with the ambient pressure.

Without adequate equalization, barotrauma (pressure injury) can occur as shallow as seven to 10 feet (1-3m). Equalize early, before your head dips below the water, and equalize often — don’t wait until you feel pressure. Go slow, relax and use a descent line if it helps. If you feel discomfort, ascend and try again.

Attempting to force equalization only increases the chance for injury. Don’t risk ruining your dive or diving holiday; take your time. A good dive buddy will wait for you.

Ear Care: Just as Important as Gear Care

Take care of your ears by cleaning them when you’re done diving for the day. If you tend to get itchy, red ear canals after dives (“swimmer’s ear”), try rinsing your ears with clean freshwater after you’ve finished diving for the day. If that doesn’t help, try mixing a solution of half white vinegar and half rubbing alcohol, and put a few drops in each ear after your last dive of the day. Wait a few moments, then tip your head to the side to let the solution drizzle out. Use a towel to absorb any runoff, not a cotton swab. Do not use any kind of ear drops if you suspect you have a ruptured eardrum.

Never Dive With an Ear Injury

Divers with a diagnosed or even suspected ear injury should discontinue diving and consult a medical professional or contact DAN’s Medical Services team (+1-919-684-2948). Signs and symptoms of an ear injury include deafness, tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and vertigo.

Respect the limitations of your body. Don’t risk the rest of your vacation — or permanent hearing loss or worse — by forcing equalization or diving with an injured ear.

If you experience an ear injury or other medical issue, DAN Dive Accident Insurance can cover out-of-pocket payments (including deductibles or co-pays) not covered by your primary insurance. Profits are reinvested in dive safety research and hyperbaric chamber funding, so even if you don’t ever use your coverage, it goes to a good cause.

Ear equalization information graphic from Divers Alert Network

Join DAN