Ear clearing: How and Why ear popper works
Ear clearing is also known as equalization, or more used in a conversation as clearing the ears, is the action to equalize the pressure in the Eustachian tubes (middle ears) with the external pressure.
As you descend into the water the external pressure in increasing and if you do not equalize (relief the pressure AKA ear popper), you will get pain, and if you continue to descent your ears will get injured (barotrauma including perforation of the eardrum).
There are many ways to clear the ears or to equalize. The most used method by the beginner divers is the Valsalva which is the easiest way, to be understood by a student diver when taught the open water course, and does not need particular training.
But is the Valsalva the best way to equalize your ears? If well done, it will become a routine, but you should know that the Valsalva is considered as the most "violent" type of equalization. You should never force when you execute a Valsalva maneuver.
The most common ear barotrauma is because of a wrongly executed Valsalva, or a forced Valsalva.
There are many techniques to clear your ears which are a lot softer than the Valsalva, but often these techniques need some training and pratice.
Clearing the ears: Valsalva, Frenzel maneuver, Toynbee maneuver and so
Because the Valsalva maneuver is known for the potential of side effects, more experienced scuba divers and free-divers often train and practice for equalization maneuvers that open the Eustachian tubes in a lot more gentle manner.
Below are listed few techniques to pop to equalize or clear your ears to relief the pressure:
- Swallowing: Pretend you are swallowing something to open the Eustachian tubes then with the back of your tongue push the air upward.
- Yawning: Helps also to open the Eustachian tubes, then the jaws' muscles contract which pushes the air at the back of your mouth upward to the Eustachian tubes.
- Frenzel maneuver: Using the rear part of the tongue and throat muscles, close the nostrils, and close the back of the throat as if straining to lift a weight. Then make the sound of the letter "K". This pushes the back of the tongue upward, compressing air into the openings of the eustachian tubes.
- Toynbee maneuver: It's a mixed method between Valsalva and swallowing. Pinch the nose to close it and swallow. These actions pull open the eustachian tubes while the movement of the tongue compresses air which passes through the tubes to the middle ear.
- Valsalva maneuver: This is the first technique being taught during a scuba course. You pinch the nose then you breathe out through the nose (closed) and because your nose is closed, the air compresses in the Eustachian tubes. This maneuver NEED to be done very gently to avoid side effects!