Middle ear equalization is a basic, required skill for divers that enables the equalization of the pressure in the sinuses and middle ear spaces with ambient pressure. Here are some tips for easier equalizing.
Before you even board the boat make sure that when you swallow you hear a 'pop' or 'click' in both ears. This tells you that both Eustachian tubes are open. Several hours before your dive, begin gently equalizing your ears every few minutes. This has great value and is said to help reduce the chances of a block early on descent say many diving Doctors. Chewing gum between dives also seems to help.
Pre-pressurizing at the surface helps you get past the critical first few metres of descent, it may also inflate the eustachian tubes so they are slightly bigger. The guide here is to pre-pressurize only if it seems to help and to pressurize gently.
Air tends to rise up your eustachian tubes, and fluid like mucus tends to drain downward. Studies have shown that a Valsalva maneuver requires 50% more force when you are in a head down position compared to a heads up. Looking up and extending your neck also tends to open your eustachian tubes.
Control your descent !! Either with good buoyancy control or using a line or anchor chain for example. Do not allow yourself to accelerate too quickly due to lack of control and a line is very useful if you have to stop your descent and ascend to release unequalized pressure.
Equalize early and often, more often than you think and before you feel much pressure. Try to maintain a slightly positive pressure in your middle ears.
Never try to push through pain, the only result will be barotrauma. You must stop and ascend every time to see if you can equalize before descending again.
Avoid tobacco and alcohol. Both irritate your mucus membranes, promoting more mucus that can block your eustachian tubes.
Keep your mask clear as water up your nose can irritate your mucus membranes, which then produce more of the stuff that clogs.
Remember that practice makes perfect and divers who experience difficulty equalizing may find it helpful to master several techniques. Many are difficult until practiced repeatedly, but this is one scuba skill you can practice anywhere.
Methods used include the following.
Passive - requires no effort and is common with very experienced divers
Voluntary tubal openeing. Tense the muscles of the soft palate and the throat while pushing the jaw forward and down as if starting to yawn. These muscles pull the tubes open.
Toynbee maneuver. Pinch your nose and swallow. This opens your tubes and compresses air against them.
Frenzel maneuver. Close your nostrils and close the back of your throat as if straining to lift a weight. Then make the sound of the letter K. This forces the back of your tongue upward, compressing air against the openings of your eustachian tubes.
Lowry technique. Pinch your nose, blow and swallow. A combination of valsalva and toynbee.
Valsalva maneuver. This is the classic method most divers learn by pinching their nose and then blowing through it. This forces air up your tubes. This does not work against tubes that are over pressured already, you also cannot blow hard or you will damage something. Blow gently and for no more than 5 seconds.
Swallowing and all the other methods are all ways of opening the normally closed eustachian tubes. The safest clearing methods utilize the muscles of the throat to open the tubes. The valsalva maneuver does not activate these muscles but forces air from the throat into the tubes.
We hope you find this information useful and interesting, and hopefully it will help many of you enjoy a lot more diving free of too many ear problems !!