Why is equalizing important?
‘Do you know that uncomfortable feeling you get in your ear while you are descending underwater?’
The reason for this is the increased pressure the water causes against your eardrum. The water pushes against your eardrum and causes this uncomfortable feeling.
And if you do not equalize, this uncomfortable feeling will change into excruciating pain with the result of a ruptured eardrum.
To better understand this, let us visualize. As shown on the picture you can see an ear anatomy. The water goes into the ear canal, pushing against the eardrum.
In a short explanation
An eardrum is a thin membrane that protects the middle ear, inner ear and eustachian tube from water and dirt. Its function is to transmit sound from the air to the ossicles inside the middle ear, then to the oval window in the fluid-filled cochlea, so you can hear sounds.
When water pressures against the eardrum, it will cause an uncomfortable feeling, because the eardrum is not flat anymore. You could say that it is being pushed into a cone shape. That is why equalizing is very important!
Luckily, equalizing your eardrums is very easy!
How do you equalize?
There are four common ways of equalizing:
You can try to yawn. A yawn is a reflex consisting of the simultaneous inhalation of air and the stretching of the eardrums, followed by an exhalation of breath. Of course, try to yawn keeping your mouth closed as you most probably will be under water. You can do this by keeping your lips together but lifting your jaw. Then try breathing in and out. Most of the time this helps you to be able to yawn on command. Do this a few times until you feel your ears pop.
You can swallow. Swallowing is also known to be effective when in need of equalizing. Swallowing makes muscles automatically work to open the eustachian tube. This tube connects the middle ear to the back of your nose. That is why it can equalize your eardrum.
Try to move your lower jaw from left to right and repeat that motion. This is not the easiest way to equalize, but it does work for some people.
The most common and way to equalize. Pinch your nostrils and gently breathe out through your nose, always in small puffs. This will reroute the air to your eustachian tube as it has no exit. The air will then pressure slightly against your eardrum from the inside. The result of this is that your eardrum will flatten preventing pain or a rupture.
This picture illustrate what happens when you equalize.
What you can see is that at the surface the eardrum is flat.
When descending, before equalizing, the eardrum will experience pressure and will go into a cone shape. This will cause the uncomfortable feeling and if you do not equalize, then an excruciating pain will follow and the rupture of the eardrum as well.
When equalizing, your eardrum will get counter pressure (air pressure) through the eustachian tube, which came from your upper throat. This will flatten the eardrum again.
Equalizing prevents pain and/or a ruptured eardrum. This is why you need to equalize.
How often do you need to equalize?
It is very important to start equalizing as soon as you go underwater with your head, meaning as soon as you start to descend. Equalize every 3 feet / 1 meter or as soon as you feel a slight pressure against your eardrum.
Keep equalizing as long as you are descending or feel a slight pressure against your eardrum. Once you reach the depth at which you are going to dive, you will not feel any pressure increase anymore, because you are staying at the same depth.
Sometimes you can feel a slight pressure again, even if you are still at the same depth. This is because of waves that are on the surface. If you feel any pressure, at any time, just equalize.
Do not wait too long to equalize, to prevent pain or injuries. Know that you cannot ever equalize too often!