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How to Equalize Your Ears While Diving

To equalize your ears you’ll need to learn the Valsalva, Frenzel, or hands-free method of equalization. Each has its pros and cons. When scuba diving it’s common to use the Valsalva technique since you have the benefit of an air tank. While you can use Valsalva for freediving, switching to Frenzel is more efficient especially while you’re inverted on your descent. If you can be hands-free, well you’re a rare gem in the community, and consider yourself lucky!

One tip I can’t stress enough is to equalize early and often. Equalize before you start your duck dive. Follow it up with equalization every few feet as you descend. If you feel the pain that means you didn’t equalize quickly enough. You should not feel pain. If you do, stop. See if you can clear it before continuing. If you can’t, go back to the surface.

We actually polled 586 divers and asked them what their favorite method of equalization was. The results were a shocking 23% hands-free, 11% Valsalva, and 6% Frenzel. 60% said blown eardrums, but we know they were just being funny.

Polling the best equalization method
Our poll of 586 individuals on which equalization method they prefer. [Source]

Equalizing: What is It?

As you go deeper into the waters, the water pressure also increases, creating an imbalance with the pressure that circulates in the ear.

Even though the human ears have the ability to adapt and regain balance naturally, it’s not well adapted to the environment in the waters, especially as you go deeper, so you need to manually maintain balance through equalizing. 

The pressure that builds up in the ear may result in pain and discomfort and is commonly associated with dizziness and temporary hearing distortion. The only way to avoid air or fluid pressure from building up in the ear is to let the eustachian tubes open through equalization or ear clearing.

how to equalize
Source: Canva Pro

Methods Used To Equalize Your Ears

When you’re underwater, the different parts of the ear—eustachian tube, eardrum, and outer ear—are at risk of infection that may cause hearing problems when there’s a problem with equalization. There’s a general rule for divers to always equalize their ears before and while descending in the waters. 

Here are some of the ear equalization methods used by divers to relieve pressure and prevent long-term damage to the ears:

Valsalva Maneuver

This is a basic method for equalization that’s often introduced to beginner divers. You’ll just have to pinch your nose and exhale gently with a force like you’re blowing in a tissue. By doing this, the air trapped along the closed eustachian tubes and along the middle ears is forced to move.

Toynbee Maneuver

The Toynbee Maneuver method is an integration of the Valsalva Maneuver and swallowing. You have to pinch your nose while swallowing and make sure that your tongue is positioned on the roof of your mouth. This method doesn’t squeeze the eustachian tubes, but it enables the throat muscles and soft muscles movement to equalize the pressure.

Frenzel Equalization

With this method, over-pressuring the inner and middle ear is prevented. You’ll just have to pinch your nose gently. If you’re to do this before descending on the waters, make sure that your nose is just half-pinched or half-closed. 

With your mouth closed, situate your tongue behind the tip of your upper front teeth like when you say the sound of the letter “t” or place your tongue in the middle of the mouth’s roof like when you would say “k.” Your soft palate muscles must be relaxed to allow the air to travel into the nasal cavity. 

Voluntary Tubal Opening

The idea of the voluntary tubal opening is to tense the soft palate while pushing the jaw forward. A perfect example of this is by yawning or just imitating the position of your jaw when yawning.

Through this, the muscles on the mouth and throat open your eustachian tubes. Another example of the jaw forward tense is when you chomp on chewing gum.

Valsalva vs Frenzel Equalization – Which Is Better? 

It’s quite hard to distinguish the difference between Valsalva and Frenzel equalization just by observing it because the gestures are just the same, but it would differ based on how the air is pushed into the eustachian tube.

In Valsalva, the air is pushed through the lungs via the windpipe or the larynx in the lungs into the eustachian tube. Through this technique, there’s the pressure created into the lungs and diaphragm. For Frenzel, there’s no pressure created into the lungs because it’s the glottis responsible for releasing the air in the mouth and throat. 

If you’re doing Valsalva, it’s hard to get enough pressure from your lungs due to compression. So, if you want to descend further, you need to shift to Frenzel Equalization

Tips For Improving Your Dive Efficiency 

For a safe and enjoyable diving experience, here are some of the tips that every diver must consider.

Learn To Clear Your Ears

Avoid pain and possible damage to the ear by practicing the correct ways to equalize or clear the ear. Equalization is the way you can move deeper safely. 

Maintain Buoyancy Control (Scuba)

To be able to descend at your desired depth,  you must be able to control your buoyancy by observing proper breathing and having the proper weight.

Maintaining the right buoyancy would not let you float or sink too quickly. If you’re about to touch a coral reef, you’ll just have to take a deep breath, and it’ll improve your buoyancy.

Never Dive Alone

This is most especially for beginner divers.  The diving buddy system ensures that divers are still safe even though equipment fails to function properly or if there’s an emergency.

For example, if your breathing apparatus stops working, your buddy may quickly attend to give you a backup breathing device. 

If you don’t have a buddy, there’s a tendency that you’ll run out of air before even reaching the surface of the water, or you’ll rush to ascend, leading to decompression sickness which is dangerous. 

Ascend Slowly (Scuba)

To avoid decompression sickness, ascend slowly. Ascending too quickly may forced nitrogen into your bloodstream that may cause confusion, poor judgment, or worst paralyze. Instead, give your body time to dissipate nitrogen in your body by coming up slowly. 

Conclusion

One of the most common injuries that a diver may experience is an ear problem or ear barotrauma. That’s why learning how to equalize ear pressure is a must-have skill that a swimmer or diver should learn. Different methods are used to equalize ear pressure; you’ll just have to practice to ensure that you’re doing it correctly. 

Aside from knowing the proper methods of equalizing your ears, you must also practice responsible diving to protect the marine environment and to keep you safe at all times.

Jon Stenstrom
Founder & Angler
Jon Stenstrom is a fishing enthusiast. He has over 25 years of fishing experience, and 6 years of spearfishing experience, and is currently learning how to boat. Jon has his Open Water PADI Certification and FII Freediver Level 1 Certification. Jon has traveled the world to fish and dive, most notably in the Great Barrier Reef, Baja Mexico, Thailand, and Malaysia. More Articles
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Articles » Diving » How to Equalize Your Ears While Diving