How to Equalize Pressure in the Ears

A significant difference in pressure levels of the middle and inner/outer ear can cause the tympanic membrane to stretch or even perforate. This may happen when SCUBA divers are underwater, resulting in pain, nausea, dizziness and bleeding. To prevent serious injury to their ears, beginner divers must learn how to equalize ear pressure before going on their first dive. One of the most popular methods of ear equalization is the Valsalva maneuver.


    • 1

      Be prepared to begin equalizing as soon as you begin your descent, not when you begin feeling pain in your ears. Whenever possible, descend feet first. You will need to exert double the force to perform the Valsalva maneuver when descending head-first.

    • 2

      Squeeze your nose between your fingers, shutting the nostrils.

    • 3

      Begin exhaling gently. Unable to exit through the pinched nostrils, air will move to the dead spaces in your ears. Exhaling gently should equalize the pressure.

    • 4

      Wiggle your jaw back and swallow simultaneously if your ears are being stubborn.

    • 5

      Don't continue trying to equalize your ears if you're unable to do so after several attempts. Instead, straighten your palm and fingers, rotating the wrist back and forth. As you do so, point towards your ear. Doing so will let your diving buddy know that you are having problems with your ears. Ascend a few feet. Wait until you feel that the pressure has decreased. Attempt to equalize again by repeating steps 1 to 3.

Tips & Warnings

  • Get in the habit of continuously equalizing your ears during a dive each time you feel a change in pressure.

  • Equalization becomes more difficult if your nose and sinuses are clogged with mucus. Keep your mask free of water, which can irritate the membranes in your nose and increase mucus production. To clear your mask of water, begin by inhaling a large breath of air through your mouthpiece. Press the top edge of the mask against your forehead and exhale through your nose. Continue exhaling as you tip your head so that you are looking diagonally.

  • Do not participate in the remainder of the dive if you cannot equalize.

  • Avoid diving when you have a head cold, which can prevent equalization.

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