Blocked ears after diving can be extremely uncomfortable. That full, aching feeling is the result of unequal pressure on either side of the eardrum, and it can take a long time to resolve itself. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to help speed up the process and get rid of that blocked feeling sooner.
What Causes Ears to Get Blocked After Diving?
There are two main causes of blocked ears after diving, and both are related to the sudden change in pressure. The first is due to the Eustachian tube, which is a small passageway that connects the middle ear to the back of the throat. This tube helps to equalize the pressure on either side of the eardrum, but it can become blocked when there is a change in pressure (such as when diving).
The second cause is related to changes in air pressure within the inner ear. These changes can cause the tiny bones in the ear (known as the ossicles) to shift and become misaligned. This can result in a feeling of fullness or blockage in the ear.
How to Get Rid of Blocked Ears After Diving
When you go diving, the pressure in the water can cause your eardrums to contract. This can lead to a condition called barotrauma, which can cause your eardrums to rupture. If your eardrums rupture, you may experience hearing loss, tinnitus, or vertigo. There are a few things you can do to help relieve the pressure in your ears and prevent barotrauma.
Try the Valsalva Maneuver
The Valsalva Maneuver is an easy and safe way to unblock your ears after diving, and it can be done anywhere. To do the Valsalva Maneuver:
- Pinch your nose shut with your fingers and close your mouth.
- Gently blow as if you are blowing your nose while keeping your nose pinched.
- Hold for a few seconds, then release.
You may need to repeat the valsalva maneuver a few times before your ears pop open.
Use Ear Drops
If you’re feeling pain or fullness in your ears after diving, it’s likely that you have a case of barotrauma. Barotrauma occurs when the pressure in your middle ear and the pressure in the environment around you are out of balance. This can damage your eardrum and other parts of your middle ear, causing pain, fullness, and temporary hearing loss.
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to ease the pain and clear your ears. One popular method is to use ear drops. This can help to equalize the pressure in your ears and relieve the pain. You can buy over-the-counter ear drops at most pharmacies, or you can make your own ear drops by mixing equal parts of white vinegar and water.
To use ear drops, lie down on your side with the affected ear facing up. Gently pull back on your outer ear to open up the canal, then tilt the dropper so that the tip is pointing into your ear. Squeeze a few drops of liquid into your ear, then stay still for five minutes so that the drops can work their way into your inner ear. Repeat this process for your other ear if necessary.
Use a Heating Pad
If your Eustachian tubes are blocked, you may be able to use a heating pad to unblock them. Applying heat to the area around your ears can help to loosen the mucus that is blocking your Eustachian tubes. You can use a heating pad for 10-15 minutes at a time.
Use Over-the-Counter Medications
If you have mild pain or pressure in your ears after diving, you can try using over-the-counter (OTC) medications to relieve your symptoms. OTC pain reliever options include ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol). You can also use OTC decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed), to help clear any congestion in your ears.
If you have any cuts or scrapes on your ears, you can also use OTC antibiotic ointment to help prevent infection. Just be sure to follow the instructions on the package carefully.
When to See a Doctor
If your problem isn’t resolved within a few minutes, or if you feel pain or ear pressure that gets worse, you should see a doctor. If you have any hearing loss, balance problems, ringing in the ears, or discharge from your ear, you should also see a doctor.
If you followed the instructions above and are still struggling with clearing your ears, it’s best to seek medical attention. A doctor will be able to properly diagnose the source of your blocked ears and provide you with a tailored course of treatment.