A Scuba Instructor’s #1 Trick for Clearing Your Ears When Scuba Diving

When I tell people I’m a scuba instructor, they usually start giving me the top reason they can’t scuba dive, even though they want to.  Reason #1 is typically sharks…think Jaws, Shark Week, dunh-dunh-dunh.  My usual response is that I love sharks, and I’ve been scuba diving all over the world with some of the biggest sharks out there.  Cue the stunned silence…

But the second most common reason I hear is that people have ear problems or trouble clearing their ears, so they don’t think they can scuba dive.  If you’re letting clearing your ears for diving stop you from pursuing an amazing sport…read on!

For the first 10 years I was diving (I’m approaching 25 years now I think…yikes!) I was in the same exact boat.  I LOVED diving, but struggles to clear my ears meant diving was painful at best and a no-go at worst.  I was the diver who always had to tell the divemaster or my buddy that they’d have to wait for me, because I had to descend very slowly to give my ears time to adjust.  I hated it…I was always the last to reach the bottom, had the least bottom time, and typically was in some level of pain on most dives, unless they were quite shallow.

And changing depths?  Forget it.

So imagine my frustration when, during my divemaster training (yes, I was stubborn and pursued becoming a dive professional EVEN WITH horrible ear issues), I finally found an instructor who could tell me the RIGHT way to clear my ears.

Going from pain and slow descents to easy, pain-free, quick descents?  Yes please!

So what’s the secret?  It’s incredibly simple…just start clearing your ears several hours before your dive.

You know that silly-looking hold-your-nose-and-blow maneuver you were taught (also called the Valsalva Maneuver)?  It works…mostly.

The biggest problem I see is that many divers are taught to equalize every few feet when they are descending.  Typically, they wait until they feel that familiar tightness in their ears, then equalize.

Here’s the problem – by the time you feel the pressure in your ears, your eustachian tubes are already closed due to the pressure.  So when does the Valsalva Maneuver work the best?  Starting before the dive – even before you’re on the boat!

I typically will try to clear my ears a few times in the hours leading up to a dive.  Why?  Well, to start with it will help me identify if my ears are clogged due to a lingering cold or allergy issues, which might mean I shouldn’t dive today.

Then, it helps to clear out any gunk in your tubes, and open the passageways to allow any fluid to drain.  It also makes clearing your ears during the dive easier, because your 
eustachian tubes were recently opened.

Today, as I write this, I had to clear my ears twice to get my right ear to open up; it’s good to know this before you start your dive, so you can work on it if needed, or even adjust your dive plans.

I also clear my ears on the boat or shore while I’m gearing up for the dive, immediately prior to descending.  Finally, I clear my ears just before I start my descent, when I’m on the surface and ready to start the dive.

Then, I can proceed with ear clearing every few feet as typically recommended.  Or, if I’m having a particularly challenging day, I may basically clear my ears the entire way down, holding my nose with one hand.

So, in total I’ve probably cleared my ears 4 to 5 times before my dive ever starts.  And you know what?  As an instructor, I’m in and out of the water and changing depths, sometimes rapidly, to keep up with students.  And using this method, I never have to worry that my ears will limit my ability to keep up!

What’s your biggest challenge or fear while scuba diving?  Share below!

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