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Have you ever experienced slight discomfort while descending underwater?

This is likely due to the increased pressure our ears, and other natural air spaces undergo while diving.

The concept is covered in-depth in open water courses, but often catches new divers off guard.

Just like everything else in diving, we humans (and otters) have come up with workarounds and solutions to allow us to partake in our beloved hobby.

Let’s dive right in.

Why Do We Equalize?

Due to the nature of the human body, there are several natural airspaces:

  • Ear
  • Sinus
  • Lungs

Equalizing provides a solution to the discomfort we encounter while diving in the sinus and ears.

There’s also a few artificial airspaces that occur while diving, but we won’t cover them much here. They are:

Air Spaces in Our Ears

We can separate the ear into three main sections.

  1. Outer ear (ear canal)
  2. Middle ear (eardrum → Eustachian Tube)
  3. Inner ear ( Eustachian Tube)

Diagram of Human Ear

When there’s a pressure difference due to depth in any of these sections, you’ll often start to feel discomfort. To solve this, we need to equalize!

Ok, you’ve heard this word a few times now: Equalize.

But have no idea what it is or how to do it.

This Official PADI video explains it better than we ever could over text. Give it a watch!

How to Equalize

Here we’ll cover a few of the most popular ways to equalize. Try them out in the field and stick to whatever works for you!

You’ll know the respective method works when you hear a “pop” sound or the discomfort disappears.

Please make sure to equalize early, and often!

Pinch Method (Valsalva Maneuver)

diver equalizing via pinch method

Likely the most common method, this involves taking your fingers, pinching your nostrils, and breathing out through your nose.

The pressure imbalance between your throat and middle ear should be normalized!

Be careful not to blow too hard, as this can actually cause injury or just look plain stupid. If this method isn’t working at your current depth, ascend, and try again.

This is my, and many of the Scubaotter staff’s go to equalizing method.

Swallow Method (Toynbee Maneuver)

Another simple and common method that involves swallowing in order to open the Eustachian tube. Sometimes I try this first as it’s a hands free method.

Yawn Method

Some divers have pretty good success with letting out a few yawns which will force open the Eustachian tube. Careful to not put other divers to sleep as they can be contagious!

Great, so now you have an idea of why we have to equalize, and how to do it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Do My Ears Pop When I Swallow?

When you swallow, you may hear a pop sound. This is the sound the Eustachian tube makes when it opens. It’s completely normal for humans and very noticeable while diving or flying.

Is Equalizing Healthy?

Absolutely, it’s actually extremely dangerous to not do while diving deep. The main thing to be careful of is blowing too hard while doing the Pinch Method (Valsalva Maneuver), which can cause damage.

Why Do We Equalize?

Humans equalize to resolve pressure imbalances in their natural and sometimes artificial airspaces.

Do You Need To Equalize When Ascending?

It really depends on if you feel discomfort or not. When in doubt, equalize! It’s simple to do, and impossible to do too much of!

Do Freedivers Equalize?

Yep! Because their air supply is limited compares to scuba divers, they are some of the most effective and quick equalizers out there.

Conclusion

You now have an in-depth background on why we are equalizing and how to do it!

Go try it out on your next dive and enjoy a dive full of comfort!