The most common method of clearing your ears is called the Valsalva maneuver. To perform this, you close your mouth, pinch your nostrils closed and gently blow through your nose. This is the basic method that you were taught as a new diver. This method works for many people however, if you are still having problems, try these tips to help you descend safely:
1. Start on the Surface
Start your equalization before you even go under the water. Stretch and condition the muscles and ear canals by moving your jaw in and out and in circular motions. Chewing gum may help exercise the jaw. If you are using the Valsalva maneuver, gently blow through your nose while you are waiting to start your descent. This “pre-pressurizes” the ear and makes equalization easier upon descent.
2. Descend Feet First
If you descend with your head down, it affects the Eustachian tube and makes it harder to equalize your ears. Conversely, if you descend with your head up, it positively effects the Eustachian tube and makes it easier to equalize your ears. Remember to look up as you complete the Valsalva maneuver.
3. Equalize Early and Often
This is probably the most important step to descending without ear problems. We were all taught to begin equalizing as soon as your head goes underwater and continue equalizing every few feet. You should actually pinch and gently blow through your nose while you are still on the surface. Then once you go under, continue equalizing all the way down. Don’t stop even if you have equalized. Keep performing the maneuver until you have reached your desired depth with clear ears. If you are having problems clearing one ear, tilt your head, keeping the blocked ear toward the surface.
4. Ascend if Not Clearing
If your ears are not clearing properly, ascend a few feet to reduce the pressure and try clearing them again. If it still doesn’t work, ascend a few more feet and try again. Repeat until you have successfully cleared your ears.
5. Do Not Force It
If you have tried ascending and it is not working, abort the dive. If you force yourself down, you can cause permanent ear injury. In this same vein, if you are using the Valsalva method, do not blow forcefully. It should be a gentle blow. A forceful blow can also cause ear injury. It’s better to forego a dive than have ear problems for the rest of your life.
6. Do Not Dive With a Cold
Congestion can make equalization difficult. And even if you are able to descend, you run the risk of having problems during ascent, a condition called “reverse squeeze.” This can also be caused by medications wearing off during the dive.