ear hole

Ear clearing

Ear clearing or clearing the ears is any of various maneuvers to equalize the pressure in the middle ear with the outside pressure, by letting air enter along the Eustachian tubes, as this does not always happen automatically when the pressure in the middle ear is lower than the outside pressure. This need can arise in scuba diving, fast descent in an aircraft, fast descent in a mine cage, and being put into pressure in a caisson or similar pressure-bearing structure.

Ear clearing methods

The ears can be cleared by:

  • Yawning
  • Swallowing
  • The valsalva manoeuvre: pinching the nose and closing the mouth and trying to breathe out through the nose. If the hand cannot reach the nose, it is possible to learn to pinch the nose shut by the action of two small face muscles called compressor naris. This is the first technique normally taught.
  • The "Frenzel maneuver": using the rear part of the tongue and throat muscles
  • The "Toynbee maneuver": pinching the nose and making a swallowing motion

This pressure difference, if not released, can result in a burst eardrum. This damages hearing, and cold water in the middle ear chills the inner ear, causing vertigo. The pressure difference can also cause damage to other body air spaces, such as the paranasal sinuses. This can also be caused by damaged sinus ducts.

To allow successful equalization, it is important that the diving suit hood does not make an airtight seal over the outside ear hole, and that earplugs are not worn. It is not recommended to dive when a eustachian tube is congested or blocked, e.g. with the common cold, as this may cause what is known as a reverse block ; descent is uninhibited as the valsalva manoeuvre may still clear the eustachian tubes temporarily by force, but during ascent a blockage may stop the air in the middle ear (which is now at depth pressure) from escaping as the diver ascends, which he may have to do as his air supply runs low, and the eardrum bursts outwards, causing the same hazard as with an ordinary burst eardrum, such as cold water in the middle ear deranging the working of the sense organs of balance in the inner ear, causing dizzyness. Divers generally get proper diver training in clearing the ears before being allowed to dive.


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