Friday, August 6, 2010

Ear lock !

I really wasn’t expecting it, but this dedicated divers’ blog has had 157 visits (and counting) in one month of being online. I am quite impressed, to be honest. However, I would like to appeal to all of you out there who are reading this blog to join in the discussion through the comment section. I would like this place to become an exchange of stories, ideas, experiences, knowledge and more. I want it to become relevant as a discussion board for people who have dived in Malta, or plan to do so at some point in the future.
And so, on the headline topic – ear pain while diving, inability to equalize and the horrible sensation once you surface. I recently did two dives in one day in Gozo, the Billinghurst Cave and a boat dive in San Dimitri, the next bit of headland past Dwejra. I will soon publish blog articles about both once I have the pictures. The first dive was fantastic, but the second became mighty uncomfortable as I could not equalize beyond the 18-metre marker.
San Dimitri is a beautiful dive, fantastic for underwater topography and marine life, and so I managed to carry on with the dive at half the depth of the party, hanging around above them at the mentioned depth.
It hasn’t happened to me that often. I was fine, equalizing as I went, but once I got to 18 metres, I just couldn’t equalize my left ear. I kept on getting the whining sound and it literally felt like my inner ear wanted to explode. I tried ascending to 12 and then 10 metres, and it cleared up, but as soon as I got down to 18 metres, the same happened again.
As mentioned, I carried on the dive at a safe depth and eventually surfaced for the boat ride back. It literally felt like I had a pair of chimes in my left ear, and as time passed, it began to hurt like mad. This, of course, brought on a crushing headache. To be frank, I was worried, and I asked Jason – an experienced diver in our crew – what his assessment was. He simply said, don’t equalize on shore, don’t stick your fingers in your ear and take a decongestant once you get home.
It seems I was lucky, my ear just wouldn’t equalize and the eustachian tube (in the inner ear), which links the ear to the throat became irritated and swollen as a result. This created the false ringing in my ears and the pain and noise is similar to what people with sinus problems experienced. After getting off the ferry and driving home, I immediately took a cold and flu tablet and the pain stopped within 20 minutes (and it was indeed painful).
I decided to wait it out and was fully prepared to go to the doctor’s at some point, but then, about two hours later, I stood up and ‘POP’ it went. Back to normal, perfect hearing and no chime ringing.  But it could have been worse.

Diving Ear Pain
Ear pain occurs during the descent portion of a dive as the diver drops deeper underwater. As the diver descends in the water, water pressure increases on the external surface of the ear drum (tympanic membrane). To counterbalance this pressure, the air pressure must reach the inner surface of the ear drum. To do this, 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 open, then as the seawater pressure in the ear canal increases, the eardrum is forced inward, 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 (rupture). Cold seawater will then rush into the middle ear causing nausea, vomiting, and dizziness.

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