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8 Proven Methods to Get Rid Of Blocked Ears After Scuba Diving

Emerging from your dive with water stuck in your ear canal is a common problem faced by divers from all levels of expertise. It can be really uncomfortable and even painful and is not something you want to experience during or after a dive.

In this post, I’ll provide some simple proven tips and common mistakes to avoid getting blocked ears after a dive session. And, just in case things get worse, I’ll explain when you need to seek medical attention and what kind of treatments a doctor might offer. So, if you’re ready to learn how to prevent and treat blocked ears, let’s dive in!

Why Do Divers Get Ear Blockage in The First Place?

When you dive into the water, the pressure increases, and the air inside your ears is compressed more and more with depth. As you come up to the surface, the pressure decreases abruptly, and the air expands, causing ear blockage. The Eustachian tube, which connects the middle ear to the back of the throat, helps to equalize the pressure. However, if the pressure change is too quick, the Eustachian tube may not function correctly, leading to blocked ears.

In layman’s terms, the pressure change underwater generally causes the eardrum to bulge inward or outward, leading to discomfort and a sensation of ear blockage. This condition is commonly known as “ear squeeze” or “diver’s ear” and can occur in one or both ears.

Symptoms of Blocked Ears You Should Look Out For

The symptoms of blocked ears after scuba diving usually include:

  • Muffled or reduced hearing
  • Spurts of stabbing pain in the ear
  • Ringing in the ear
  • A feeling of fullness in the ear
  • Dizziness or vertigo

Ear Squeeze and Swimmer’s Ear Are Different

It’s a common misconception a lot of new divers have. A blocked/muffled ear after scuba diving is different than a swimmer’s ear, medically known as otitis externa.

Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the outer ear canal typically caused by bacteria. It often results from water that remains in the ear after swimming. An ear squeeze after diving, on the other hand, is caused by pressure differences between the ear and the underwater environment, not an infection (but it can lead to infections due to trapped water if left unchecked). It’s a type of barotrauma.

Tips To Get Rid of Blocked Ears (Ear Squeeze) After Scuba Diving

1. Let Gravity Take Care of it

In most cases, this is enough to get rid of blocked ears since water generally gets trapped in your outer ear canal and the force of gravity is enough to drain it out.

Tilt your head to the affected side(s) one at a time and lie down. You can also stand with your head tilted and gently stomp your feet till the eardrums is back to it’s original position and water (if any) is drained. You should hear a pop and/or whooshing sound after a successful attempt.

2. Create a Vacuum

Take a deep breath and close your mouth. Pinch your nostrils and exhale gently through your nose. The pressure created by the exhale may help to open the Eustachian tube and relieve the blockage.

3. Use OTC Ear Drops

Over-the-counter ear drops such as the Swim-Seal Ear Drying Drops can also help to relieve blocked ears after scuba diving. They contain ingredients that help to break down the earwax and clear the blockage. Don’t use it too often or you might destroy the natural functioning of your earwax.

Not willing to spend money on eardrops? No worries. There’s a great homemade substitute for eardrop solution.

Mix equal parts of white vinegar and rubbing alcohol. Tilt your head with the affected side facing upwards and put a few drops into your ear using a dropper. Wait for a few minutes and tilt your head to the opposite side to let the solution drain out. Instant relief!

4. Make Exaggerated Facial Expressions

If the water is trapped deep inside mimic yawning or hard chewing motions to push the trapped water into the outer ear canal and then keep gently tugging your ear lobes till the water drains out.

If you feel sharp pain while tugging your lobes, that right there is a sign of canal infection. Ditch your home remedies and visit a doctor.

5. Use Hydrogen Peroxide Solution

This solution is only effective if you have fluid trapped in your middle ear caused by the ear barotrauma. Earwax buildup often blocks the water from draining out of your ears leading to that blocked feeling. According to a 2004 research, Hydrogen Peroxide is an effective way to get rid of excess earwax and allow easier passage of the trapped water.

Mix equal parts of hydrogen peroxide and water and use a dropper to apply a few drops of the solution to the affected ear. Tilt your head to the side to allow the solution to flow into the ear canal and stay in that position for a few minutes before tilting your head to the other side to drain it out.

6. Steam Treatment

Inhaling steam can help open up the Eustachian tube. Boil some water in a pot and hold your head over the steam with a towel over your head to create an enclosure. Breathe deeply for a minute or two until you feel the assuring pop of your eardrum setting back in its original position.

Alternatively, you can apply a warm compress with a towel to ease the ear tissues and clear the congestion.

7. Chew Gums

When you chew gum, it stimulates the muscles that are responsible for opening and closing the Eustachian tube, a narrow passageway that connects the middle ear to the back of the throat. It can help to equalize the pressure on either side of the eardrum and help you alleviate ear blockage.

If you’re going to try using chewing gum to unblock your ears, going for sugar-free gums might be a healthier choice.

8. Use Anti-Histamines (With Caution)

If possible pop some over-the-counter antihistamines a day or two before diving to fend off congestion. Antihistamines tend to depress your CNS as an immediate after-effect so do NOT take antihistamines on the day of the dive.

Risks of Leaving Your Blocked Ears Untreated

Immediate Effects

Ignoring ear blockage after scuba diving can easily worsen the health consequences such as pain, dizziness, and difficulty in hearing. The condition can also cause tinnitus or ringing in the ears, which can be quite distressing.

Long-Term Effects

Leaving ear blockage after scuba diving untreated can lead to long-term health consequences such as permanent hearing loss, balance problems, and infections.

Infections Caused by Blocked Ears

Another effect of keeping your blocked ears unchecked is swimmer’s ear, a painful condition that occurs when water gets trapped in the ear canal. It can cause redness, swelling, and pus discharge from the ear.

Middle Ear Barotrauma (MEBT)

Not unblocking your ears and draining the water can lead to Middle Ear Barotrauma (MEBT). Barotrauma in the ears can range from mild to severe, and it can cause a range of symptoms, including pain, dizziness, hearing loss, and ringing in the ears. In severe cases, barotrauma can even cause a rupture of the eardrum, leading to permanent hearing loss.

How Long Can The Water Stay Trapped in Your Ear?

Water can stay trapped in your ear for varying lengths of time, depending on how much water enters the ear and the position of your head. In some cases, water can drain out of the ear on its own, while in other cases, it may remain trapped for a longer period.

Typically, water that enters the outer ear canal can stay trapped in the ear for a few hours to a day. However, if the water enters deeper into the ear canal, it can stay trapped for a longer period and may require medical attention to remove it.

Things NOT to Do While Treating Your Blocked Ears

  • Do not use Q-tips or other objects: One of the most common mistakes people make is trying to clean their ears using Q-tips, cotton swabs, or other objects. This can push the wax further into the ear canal, amplifying the blockage.
  • Do not ignore the symptoms: Blocked ears can be a sign of an underlying health condition, such as an ear infection or allergies. Ignoring the symptoms can make the problem worse and lead to further complications.
  • Do not use ear candles: Ear candles are ineffective and can also be dangerous, causing burns, wax blockages, and eardrum perforations.
  • Do not use alcohol or hydrogen peroxide: Using alcohol or hydrogen peroxide to clean your ears can lead to irritation, dryness, and damage to the ear canal.

How To Avoid Getting Blocked Ears from the Very Start?

Yes, it sounds silly but the most effective way to avoid blocked ears is getting them in the first place. Proper ear equalization maneuvers and a little bit of focus during your descent can significantly reduce your chances of getting clogged ears after your dive session.

Equalize Your Ears Frequently

The most effective way to prevent ear blockage while diving is to equalize your ears frequently. Equalizing means equalizing the pressure between your middle ear and the environment. You can do this by gently blowing through your nose while pinching it shut or swallowing. This technique helps to open the Eustachian tubes, allowing air to flow in and out of your middle ear.

Perform A Slow Descent

Another common cause of ear blockage is descending too quickly. As you dive deeper, the pressure increases, and if you descend too quickly, it can cause a sudden change in pressure, making it difficult for your ears to adjust. To prevent this, descend slowly, and take your time to equalize your ears constantly during the descent.

Descending techniques like the feet-first descent or the controlled descent allow you to descend slowly and equalize your ears frequently.

Avoid Diving with a Cold or Congestion

Diving with a cold or congestion can increase your risk of ear blockage. The congestion can make it difficult for the Eustachian tubes to open and equalize the pressure in your ears. It would help if you wait until you’re fully recovered before diving.

Choose the Right Equipment

Choosing the right equipment, like a full-face mask or a hood, can also help prevent ear blockage. These accessories provide additional protection and warmth around your ears, preventing them from getting cold, which can increase the risk of ear blockage.

Wear Vented Earplugs

While it is not recommended to wear regular earplugs while scuba diving, Doc’s Proplugs are an exception. Unlike regular solid earplugs, Doc’s Proplugs have vented earplugs that prevent ‘ear squeeze’ by allowing easy equalization and lowering pressure build-up around the ears.

I tried them out to test their effectiveness in some of my dives. But I would suggest buying these only as a last resort. Developing ear equalization skills should still be your top priority as a diver.

Use Ear Equalization Maneuvers Before Diving

Several tried and tested ear equalization maneuvers are there to help you equalize the pressure in your ears before taking the plunge.

The Valsalva Maneuver

The Valsalva maneuver is the most common technique used to equalize middle ear pressure before diving. It involves closing your mouth and pinching your nose shut while blowing air gently.

The Toynbee Maneuver

The Toynbee maneuver is another effective technique to unblock your ears. It involves pinching your nose shut and swallowing. This technique helps to open the Eustachian tubes, allowing air to flow in and out of your middle ear.

The Frenzel Maneuver

The Frenzel maneuver is a technique used by advanced divers. It involves pinching your nose shut and making a “k” sound while trying to exhale. This technique helps to open the Eustachian tubes and equalize the pressure in your middle ear.

When to Visit a Doctor?

If you experience blocked ears after scuba diving and the symptoms persist for more than a few hours, it’s time to escalate the situation by visiting a doctor. If you have pus discharge from your ear due to ear blockage or if you experience ringing pain for prolonged periods in your middle ear, seek an ENT specialist as soon as possible. A doctor can examine your ear and determine the cause of the infection, whether it’s bacterial or fungal.

Treatment options offered by an ENT may include ear cleaning, prescription ear drops, or antibiotics if there is an infection. In severe cases, the doctor may need to perform a minor surgical procedure to remove the blockage.

To Sum It Up

Prevention is better than cure. The key to preventing yourself from getting stuffed ears is learning how to equalize your ears properly. But mastering equalization techniques may take some time for new divers and they often end up getting partially blocked ears after every dive.

In the meantime, you can try employing the effective natural and home remedies mentioned above to alleviate the symptoms. Take note that it’s a must to seek medical attention if the blockage persists after 1-2 days or if you experience severe pain.

William Dupre

William Dupre

Retired Master Diver with 20+ years of experience and 2100+ logged dives. Presently, spending my time blogging about Diving and checking off locations one by one from my bucket list of dive destinations.

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