Equalization Concerns

I thought I'd start off our Tokoriki Diving Blog page with a write-up on "equalization concerns", as this seems to be a topic that many of us can relate to.

When I learnt to dive an inablility to equalize almost put me off scuba diving for life!  I am so glad it didn't, because scuba diving is now my life!

I also had an awful lot of problems with leaky masks.  I mention this, because the two in some way were connected. 

I had an absolute fear of diving when I started out, which effected my breathing, my thinking and all the muscles in my face.  Not only was I stressed out, but so were my muscles!  Tought, tight muscles in my face and neck effected my ability to equalize easily as well as to find a mask that sealed to my face!  Let's get back on track however to problems with equalization. 

My #1 top tip is to be relaxed when you dive. 

It is important for many reasons, including an ability to equalize.  Relaxed, soft muscles work much more effectively, than stressed out ones!  The minute I relaxed into diving I ceased having equalization issues, and funnily enough I never had any further issues with leaky masks either!

My #2 top tip is equalize early and often.

We learn about this in our very first dive briefing and pool lesson, and in Chapter 1 of the PADI Open Water Manual.  Some divers like to equalize by chewing and swallowing before they've even got geared up.  This is a medically approved tip to help open up the air ways, prior to actually requiring the need to pressurize.  No lollies at hand - just pretend chew!  Once in the water equalize again at the surface, and then again the moment you start descending.  Descend slowly, and equalize as frequently as you wish, at very least once every 1 metre/ 3 feet, before you feel any discomfort.  

My #3 top tip is to try different methods of equalizing

When I started out diving, all I was taught was to pinch my nose close, and blow through it.  Well whilst this technique which is called the 'Valsalva technique' works for most newbie divers, it doesn't for all, and that was the case with me!  Pinching my nose and blowing through it, did nothing for me, except make me want to vomit!  Gosh, no wonder I was almost put off diving for life!  I later learnt to use the 'Voluntary Tubal Opening' method.  which involves moving your jaw forward and then back.  I once taught a Speach Therapist to dive, who told me that this same technique is used to help people overcome speach impediments. The point is there are lots of different technques that you can try.  For more information about the specifics of the different techniques of equalizing, please click on this linked article about Equalization from Divers Alert Network.

My #4 top tip is to check your body position when you descend

Make sure you descend in the feet down position, with your head tilted up towards the surface.  Extending your neck does wonders to open up your Eustachian tubes.  

My #5 top tip is to speak to your Instructor about your ear concerns, when booking your dive

Try to book single tank dives, so your ears have time to rest inbetween dives.  Regarding choice of dive site, some reefs are better than others for people who are concerned that they may have ear issues.  If we know this in advance, then there's lots that can be done, to make your descent into the underwater world, one that is stress free.  A dive site where the reef top is close to the surface is always a good plan, as well as choosing somewhere where a descent line can be placed for you to hold on to.  Wherever possible currents should also be avoided.  If necessary an extra PADI professional can also dive along side you, so that you feel relaxed in the knowledge that you're not holding other divers up.  It's simply a case of communicating your concerns to your Instructor, so he/she can help.

My #6 top tip is don't dive if you are not medically fit to dive in any circumstance.  

As we're talking about ears and sinuses and equalization concerns, we'll stick to congestion issues only on this one.  Trust me when I say that even if you manage to do your dive without equalization or reverse block issues, you won't be doing your cold any favours.  Your dive will simply make your symptoms worse.

My #7 top tip is to visit the Doctor

I know it doesn't sound the nicest of things to hear, but your inability to equalize effectively might be due to a build up of ear wax.  One of our dive Professionals ocassionally has to have his ears syringed, and it works a treat everytime.  If it's not ear wax, then an Ear Specialist can perhaps work out why you struggle with equalization.  

My #8 top tip is to try Doc's Pro Plugs for Scuba Divers.  

I've never tried them, but taken quite a few divers scuba diving who swear by them.  Apparently it has to be this brand and they work.  I will throw in a huge disclaimer here, this recommendation is not endorsed by PADI and I have never used them.  Anyway here's a link to the brand, and please do your own research on the subject.  Doc's Pro Plugs.

Alex Garland