The quick answer – don’t get them blocked in the first place! One of the first things you will have been taught when learning to dive is how to equalize your ears to deal with the pressure. But what about after the dive? What if you have some sea water in ears? How to clear ears after diving is easy and should not be a painful or lasting issue. Read on to find out how to get rid of blocked ears after diving and how best to avoid water in the ears for future dives!

How to get rid of Blocked Ears after Diving

A common question from divers, and especially beginner divers, is how to get rid of blocked ears after diving. This can seem quite scary at first, as your hearing will be limited and you might feel nauseous. But this is actually a common issue and can be fixed by trying out the following methods:

  • Lie on your side – gravity will help the water drain out of your ear.
  • Wiggle the earlobe – take hold of your earlobe and wiggle it while tilting your head down.
  • Hairdryer – some people find a hairdryer can help evaporate the water inside their ear. Turn on the dryer about 30cm away from your ear on the lowest setting. Gently tug on your earlobe and let the air blow inside. Be careful not to bring the dryer too close to your ear.
  • Hot compress against the ear and tilt your head
  • Vinegar/alcohol eardrops – mix together 1 part alcohol to 1 part vinegar, then put a couple of drops in your ear. Wait 30 seconds then drain the solution out. Do not use this method if you have an ear infection or perforated eardrum.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide eardrops – perform the same method as with vinegar/alcohol, and follow the same precautions if other ear issues already exist.
  • Or use a commercial product such as Swim-EAR. This relieves water-clogged ears and dries the water in your ears. This works best when you use it straight after a dive.
How To Get Rid of Blocked Ears after Diving - use Swim-Ear drops

Sea water in ears! How does a ‘Blocked Ear’ occur?

The proper medical term for “blocked ears” is Middle-Ear Barotrauma or MEBT. MEBT occurs when you have built up blood or fluid inside your middle ear. In the worst cases, it can lead to eardrum rupture.

In the middle of your ear is a chamber called the tympanic cavity. This is an empty space in the middle of your ear that needs to be maintained at the same pressure as the surrounding environment.

A tube called the Eustachian tube connects this chamber to your throat.

In normal daily life, the Eustachian tube allows the tympanic cavity to maintain the same pressure as outside. Regular jaw movements such as swallowing and yawning help to equalize the pressure.

Problems can start to occur however if the Eustachian tube is blocked or obstructed. This can occur for many reasons. Some of the most common are colds, inflammation of the tube, being born with narrower tubes, or a buildup of earwax.

When descending during a dive the tympanic cavity will become compressed. You must regularly equalize to stop the cavity shrinking and allowing water to seep inside. If the cavity/space does not equalize then this becomes a MEBT.

Risks associated with Blocked Ears

There are several risks associated with blocked ears that you should always try to avoid:

  • Middle ear Barotrauma – water in the tympanic cavity can be both painful and lead to infections. 
  • Damage to the eardrum – a ruptured eardrum can lead to serious issues including permanent hearing damage and balance issues.
  • Infection – infections can be painful and dangerous in any part of the body. Infections of the ear can be particularly dangerous. If you think you have an infection developing, then speak to a Doctor immediately.

How long can water stay in your ear?

Water will normally drain from your ear naturally within 2 to 3 days. If the water remains longer than this then visit your doctor for further investigation. The longer the water sits in your ear, the more likely you are to develop an infection.

How to avoid a blocked ear – why equalizing properly is important

To help avoid a blocked ear there are several things you can do:

Before you even begin the dive you can help reduce the risk of a blocked ear. The Eustachian tube is particularly vulnerable to mucus build-up. Certain foods and compounds can lead to increased mucus production. Drinking milk, in particular, can lead to increased mucus production. Tobacco smoke and alcohol irritate your mucus membranes so will again cause increased mucus production.  Avoid these substances in the days leading up to your trip to help reduce the chances of a blocked ear.

On the day of the dive, when you enter the water you should make a slow and gradual descent. Do not feel you have to rush your descent. As you descend you should regularly equalize the pressure. There are a number of common techniques for equalizing:

  • Valsava Maneuver
  • Swallowing
  • Toynbee Maneuver
  • Lowry Technique

Read More: Why the Toynbee Maneuver is safer than the Valava Maneuver

These dive masks with ear covers can also help people who are prone to getting water in their ears.

The water-tight cups keeps water out and prevents Swimmer’s Ear.

Conclusion

Blocked ears can be both painful and dangerous. A blocked ear on the first day of a dive holiday can lead to an unhappy trip. Practice equalizing your ears regularly. When descending, take your time and use one of the common equalization methods to equalize regularly. If you start to feel pain, ascend a little and try to clear again.

A common question when beginning to scuba diver is how to get rid of blocked ears after diving. If you do suffer from a blocked ear or seawater in ears then use one of the methods above to help drain the fluid from inside your ears. 

Whatever you do, if the pain lasts more than a day, visit a doctor immediately. Left untreated, serious problems can develop leaving you with hearing and balance issues.