Ear pain is a usual complaint among scuba divers at some point. The discomfort arises due to the differences in the compression amidst the middle ear and the outdoor environment.
How does it occur?
Ear pain arises as an individual descends deep underwater. While descending in the water, the water pressure rises on the external surface of the eardrum.
As a measure to counterbalance the pressure, the air pressure should reach the inner surface of the eardrum. The Eustachian tube opens and allows the pressure at the rear of the eardrum to normalize with the external burden of the water within the ear canal.
In case the Eustachian tube could not open, the heaviness of the water inside the ear canal rises where the eardrum is required to move inwards, resulting to pain and inflammation in the eardrum.
If the ear pain is ignored and the diver descends deeper, the pressure continues to rise, and the eardrum might rupture. Cold water will flow into the middle ear, resulting to vomiting, nausea and dizziness.
Some of the causes in which the Eustachian tube might not open to equalize the pressure include:
- Nasal polyps
- Upper respiratory infections
- Previous facial trauma
- Over-aggressive cleaning of the ears
What are the signs?
The pressure on the eardrum is responsible for the symptoms. At a level with low pressure, there is a sensation of fullness. As the pressure rises, the eardrum starts to bulge inwards, swells and becomes painful.
If the high pressure leads to the rupture of the eardrum, air bubbles can be felt coming from the ear and the pain might lessen. Nevertheless, as cold water enters the middle ear via the ruptured eardrum, the individual becomes nauseated or vomits.
Once the individual returns to the surface, the diver might feel fluid draining out of the ear if the eardrum ruptured.
Self-care measures for scuba diving ear pain
The treatment for ear pain from scuba diving is started during the dive. Once the diver feels fullness or discomfort, stop the dive and try to clear the ears. In case ear cleaning techniques fail to work, the dive must be ended. Make sure that the individual completes the decompression stops if needed when ascending to the surface.
In case the eardrum ruptures, the diver might become disoriented or vomits which might lead to panic. This can lead to a rapid rise to the surface. It is vital to carefully observe and assist the diver during the ascent. Upon reaching the surface, keep the ear dry and do not place anything in the ear.