When to Seek Medical Help for Ear Pain

What’s the most common diving-related injury? If you guessed decompression illness – guess again.

Ear injuries are the most common diving-related medical problem. Scuba equipment allows us to breathe underwater, but it doesn’t turn us into fish. Our physiology isn’t designed for the pressure changes that occur during a dive without active involvement — equalization. If you push your body too far, you can end up with a barotrauma.

Barotrauma (baro = pressure, trauma = injury) occurs when the pressure in the middle ear is not equal to the external pressure of the environment. By descending slowly and equalizing often, a diver can avoid barotrauma. As the pressure difference builds, the Eustachian tubes in the middle ear close – making it impossible to equalize. This is when injuries can occur.

If you or another diver experience any of the following symptoms, stop diving and seek medical care:

  • Ears feel “full” or like they have water in them
  • Severe ear pain
  • Any ear pain lasting more than 24 hours
  • Nausea or Vomiting
  • Muffled hearing or hearing loss
  • Ringing in the ear
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • The external ear is red or swollen
  • Blood or fluid oozing from ear
  • Blood on pillow
  • Pain on swallowing or on Valsalva

If possible, see an ear, nose, and throat specialist with experience treating diving-related ear problems. If a specialist is not available, see the next available medical professional. Never ignore the symptoms above: hearing loss, balance control or other serious problems may occur.

The best way to deal with ear injuries is to avoid getting them in the first place. Equalize early and often and don’t force a descent. If you can’t equalize, ascend until you can. If you can’t equalize, abort the dive.

Completing your Perfect Buoyancy course will greatly reduce the risk of any ear concerns.

For the full article visit Divers Alert Network.

More to explore