Ear Plugs for Scuba Diving
If you’ve ever experienced ear pain or discomfort while diving, you know just how much this nuisance can disrupt and ruin a good dive. For some, the issues can be so severe as to prevent diving altogether, a truly frustrating situation.
And divers are looking for solutions everywhere. There are ear-dryers, special ear-covering face masks, and ear drops that are meant to minimize the risk of pain during a dive. Yet, the solutions don’t seem to be hitting the mark.
According to some, though, wearing specialized earplugs while diving actually does prevent pain and reduce the risk of infection. Others are not so sure that they can be helpful. Can the hype be real?
First of all, what really causes ear pain?
There are a few things that can cause pain in the ear during a dive: water pressure, water blockage, and temperature. Here is a simple breakdown of each risk.
Divers may occasionally experience pain in the ear during descent, when water pressure increases. This is because the external surface of the eardrum is the first to be affected by the rise in pressure. As this happens, the air pressure on the inner surface tries to equalize the pressure by relying on the Eustachian tube to open. But, if the Eustachian tube doesn’t open, the eardrum is pushed in by the unequal pressure, leading to pain and inflammation.
At this point, a diver may be tempted to push through the pain and continue with the dive. However, if unaddressed, the pressure will only continue to rise, eventually rupturing the eardrum altogether. When this happens, water floods the middle ear, leading to various symptoms like dizziness, vomiting, and, of course, hearing loss.
Another common source of pain is what is widely known as Swimmer’s Ear, an infection of the outer ear which can be brought on by prolonged water exposure or water trapped in the ear. The symptoms include swelling, pain, and a feeling of fullness in the ear canal.
Here, we’ve highlighted the two main culprits, pressure and Swimmer’s Ear, but there are other serious conditions as well. One such malady is Surfer’s Ear, which is an abnormal bone growth in the ear canal caused by cold temperatures. The growth in the canal can trap water in the ear, causing pain.
Not everyone experiences this discomfort, but for those who do, each dive is something like a gamble. After the first onset, divers may be asking themselves: Is the pain going to come back? Is it going to cut the dive short? Is it safe to even try again? Overall, if you’re ever feeling pain during a dive, it’s crucial to slow down your descent and abort a dive if you don’t feel a reduction in the pain. And, if the problems keep popping up, it’s probably time to try something new.
Can earplugs help?
There are a few diving earplugs on the market that are alleged to ease the common causes of ear pain. Some, like the Doc’s Proplugs, are vented, which the company claims to be better for pressure equalization.
Another central benefit of the device is the reduction in the amount of water in the ear. Not only does this limit the risk of water getting trapped in the ear, but it also keeps the canal warm. So, the plug can theoretically reduce the risk of both Swimmer’s Ear and Surfer’s Ear. Surprisingly, no water is able to enter until 20 feet below, further limiting the exposure of water to the ear canal and maintaining a comfortable, safe temperature, as well.
What about communication?
If you utilize an underwater communication device when you dive, there’s no need to worry about the diving earplugs getting in the way. After all, most communication headsets rest over the entire ear and shouldn’t touch or interfere with the earplug. In fact, keeping the ear canal clear of water blockages may actually help divers remain in clear contact with one another.
It should be noted that there is a something of a shortage of scientific evidence to prove that these vented devices work, and there are some doctors who warn against them. However, for decades, many divers have relied upon the earplugs without any repercussions and seem to have enjoyed the benefits of the product.
Especially for those who have sensitive ears or who have experienced diving-caused ear pain in the past, these small, cheap products are worth a try.