Diving Doctor – diving medical advice on ear clearing techniques for diving

Written by Dr Oliver Sykes

The Theory:

Your ears have an external tunnel that ends with a flexible ear drum (see a. below). Imagine a real drum that gets compressed if you increased the pressure around it. The frame of the drum is like your skull and the skin of the drum is like your ear drum.

Thankfully your ears differ from a real drum. Each ear has a (eustachian) tube, which runs from behind the ear drum to the back of your throat.

To stop your ear drum being pushed inwards, you need to increase the internal the pressure behind your ear drum. You can do this by actively pushing air up these tubes.

The tubes unfortunately can work like flutter valves, hence can get stuck closed if you try too hard or allow the pressure to get too great before clearing your ears. These tubes can also be blocked when you have a cold.

Try any of the techniques over the page early and often but perhaps start with 1. and 2. Everyone does it differently and works out which method works best for them.

You will know when you have been successful when your ears “pop” and your hearing returns to normal.

The Techniques

1. Swallowing, which is known as the Toynbee manoeuvre, yawning, coughing, blowing your nose are all things we are used to doing, and can be useful.

2. Pinch your nose, close your mouth and try to blow out of your ears gently. Too hard will not work and can do damage. This is known as the valsalva manoeuvre.

3. Lowry technique involves using all the above.

4. Edmonds technique involves rocking the lower jaw from left to right and up and down and forwards and backwards, so that the lower teeth project in front of the upper teeth.

5. Edmonds 2 advice: “Block your nose, close your mouth, then suck in your cheeks then puff them out quickly.

6. A difficult one to describe is the frenzel manoevre. This involves closing the mouth and nose and push the back of your tongue up to the roof of your mouth as you swallow.

7. Some people get good at clearing their ears and can do it without seeming to do anything. But everyone started off by holding their nose and blowing out of their ears!

Blocked or painful ears are very common while the pressure is increased. Difficulty clearing your ears is nothing to be ashamed of. Some people simply find it difficult, but the longer you leave it the less likely you will be able to clear your ears.