Skip to content
Font Size
A
A
A

Ear Pain, Scuba Diving

Ear Pain, Scuba Diving - Overview

Ear pain is the most common complaint from scuba divers and is experienced by almost every diver at some point. Some divers call it "ear squeeze." As a diver goes deeper under water and the outer environment pressure increases, the pressure in the middle ear (the part behind the ear drum) is "squeezed" by the increasing pressure of the water from outside.

The middle ear is an air-filled space formed by bone and the tympanic membrane or eardrum. It is connected to the back of the nose by a tunnel called the eustachian tube. Outside air passing through the eustachian tube keeps the pressure in the middle ear equal to that of the outside world. If the eustachian tube malfunctions and a pressure difference occurs across the eardrum, pain or ear squeeze occurs.

Recommended Related to

Earwax

Earwax is produced by glands in the ear canal. Although scientists are still not completely sure why we have earwax, its purpose is to trap dust and other small particles and prevent them from reaching, and potentially damaging or infecting the eardrum. Normally, the wax dries up and falls out of the ear, along with any trapped dust or debris. Everyone makes ear wax, but the amount and type are genetically determined just like hair color or height. Smaller or oddly shaped ear canals may make...

Read the Earwax article > >

Diving Ear Pain - Causes

Ear pain occurs during the descent portion of a dive -- as the diver drops deeper underwater. The squeezing ear pain most often occurs near the surface where the relative pressure changes are greatest. Each foot below the surface places continuing pressure on the diver. For every 33 feet under water, atmospheric pressure increases in the amount of 1 atmosphere (this can be compared to the pressure of 1 atmosphere for anyone at sea level).

Normally, the eustachian tube will open and allow the pressure behind the eardrum to equalize with the outside pressure of the seawater in the ear canal. But, if the eustachian tube can't do its job, then as the seawater pressure in the ear canal increases, the eardrum is pushed inward, stretching and inflaming the eardrum and causing pain. If the pain is ignored and the diver drops deeper, the pressure will continue to increase and the eardrum may burst, allowing cold seawater to rush into the middle ear. Nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and confusion may follow.

Rapid ascents or descents in a car or commercial air flight may also cause pressure equalization problems in the ear but not to the same degree as in a dive. You may get an ear pop but not an ear squeeze.

  • There are many reasons for the eustachian tubes not to equalize the pressure:
1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Hot Topics

WebMD Video: Now Playing

Click here to wach video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Which sex is the worst about washing up? Why is it so important? We’ve got the dirty truth on how and when to wash your hands.

Click here to watch video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Popular Slideshows & Tools on WebMD

disciplining a boy
Types, symptoms, causes.
psoriasis
What it looks like.
fruit drinks
Eat these to think better.
No gym workout
Moves to help control blood sugar.
acupuncture needle on shoulder
10 tips to look and feel good.
Close up of eye
12 reasons you're distracted.
Epinephrine Injection using Auto-Injector Syringe
Life-threatening triggers.
woman biting a big ice cube
Habits that wreck your teeth.
embarrassed woman
Do you feel guilty after eating?
pacemaker next to xray
Treatment options.
caregiver with parent
10 tips for daily life.
birth control pills
Which kind is right for you?

Pollen counts, treatment tips, and more.

It's nothing to sneeze at.

Loading ...

Sending your email...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

Thanks!

Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

Women's Health Newsletter

Find out what women really need.