Diver clearing ears
Section of the human ear, the Eustachian tube is shown in colour

Ear clearing, clearing the ears or equalization 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, freediving/spearfishing, skydiving, fast descent in an aircraft, fast descent in a mine cage, and being put into pressure in a caisson or similar internally pressurised enclosure, or sometimes even simply travelling at fast speeds in an automobile.[1][2][3][4]

Normally the ears will clear automatically during a reduction in ambient pressure, but if they do not, a reverse squeeze may occur, which can also require clearing to avoid causing injury to the eardrum or inner ear.

People who do intense weight lifting, such as squats, may experience sudden conductive hearing loss due to air pressure building up inside the ear.[citation needed][clarification needed] An ear clearing maneuver will often relieve pressure in the middle ear, or pain if any.


See also: Tensor veli palatini muscle § Function

The ears can be cleared by various methods,[2] some of which pose a distinct risk of barotrauma including perforation of the eardrum:

No single method but the last is considered safest or most successful in equalization of the middle ear pressure. Using alternative techniques may improve the success individually when a technique fails.[9]


The pressure difference between the middle ear and the outside, if not released, can result in a burst eardrum.[10] This damages hearing,[11] and if this occurs underwater, cold water in the middle ear chills the inner ear, causing vertigo.[12] The pressure difference can also cause damage to other body air spaces, such as the paranasal sinuses.[13] This can also be caused by damaged sinus ducts.

To allow successful equalization when diving, it is important that the diving suit hood not make an airtight seal over the outside ear hole, and that earplugs not be worn.[2] Diving is proscribed when a eustachian tube is congested or blocked, such as can occur with the common cold, as this may cause what is known as a reverse block, whereby descent is uninhibited as the Valsalva maneuver 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. The eardrum then bursts outwards, causing the same hazards 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.[14]


Nasal congestion may affect the sinus openings and the eustachian tubes and may lead to difficulty or inability to clear the ears. To prevent congestion, allergies can be treated by the use of antihistamines, decongestants and nasal sprays, and allergy desensitization. Recently developed antihistamines do not cross the blood–brain barrier and do not produce drowsiness.[15]

Decongestants can have side effects such as speeding up heart rate which may have adverse effects in cases where there is underlying cardiovascular disease. Over-the-counter nasal sprays can produce a rebound effect causing greater congestion when the effect wears off, which can lead to reversed ear blockage on ascent. Some steroid nasal sprays do not have this side effect and can be very effective, but may also only be available by prescription.[dead link]

Combinations of the same drugs are useful in non-allergic rhinitis. These medications can be very useful in controlling the nasal congestion problem.[15]


This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources in this section. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (September 2023) (Learn how and when to remove this message)

Divers get training in clearing the ears before being allowed to dive.[2] Because of the potential for side effects of the valsalva maneuver, scuba divers and free-divers may train to exercise the muscles that open the Eustachian tubes in a gentler manner. The French underwater association (Fédération Française d'Études et de Sports Sous-Marins) has produced a series of exercises using the tongue and soft palate to assist a diver in clearing their ears by these techniques. These recommendations were based on work done at the Médecine du sport, Bd st Marcel, Paris.[16][17]

With practice it is possible for some people to close the nostrils hands-free by contracting the compressor naris muscles. Some people are able to voluntarily hold their Eustachian tubes open continuously for a period of several seconds to minutes. The 'clicking your ears' can actually be heard if one puts one's ear to another person's ear for them to hear the clicking sound. Those that are borderline on learning this voluntary control first discover this via yawning or swallowing or other means; which after practice can be done deliberately without force even when there are no pressure issues involved. When the Eustachian tubes are deliberately held open, one's voice sounds louder in one's head than when they are closed.

See also


  1. ^ Molvaer, Otto I. (2003). "8: Otorhinolaryngological aspects of diving". In Brubakk, Alf O.; Neuman, Tom S. (eds.). Bennett and Elliott's physiology and medicine of diving (5th Revised ed.). United States: Saunders Ltd. pp. 231–7. ISBN 0-7020-2571-2. OCLC 51607923.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Kay, E. "Prevention of middle ear barotrauma". Archived from the original on 2012-04-27. Retrieved 2008-05-01.
  3. ^ Kay, E. "The Diver's Ear - Under Pressure". Archived from the original (Flash video) on 2012-05-31. Retrieved 2008-05-01.
  4. ^ Vincoli, Jeffrey W (1999). Lewis' Dictionary of Occupational and Environmental Safety and Health. CRC Press. p. 325. ISBN 1-56670-399-9.
  5. ^ a b Roydhouse, N (1978). "The squeeze, the ear and prevention". South Pacific Underwater Medicine Society Journal. 8 (1). ISSN 0813-1988. OCLC 16986801.
  6. ^ Silman & Arick: "Efficacy of a Modified Politzer Apparatus in Management of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction in Adults", Journal of the American Academy of Audiology, October 1999; Volume 10, No. 9
  7. ^ a b Taylor, D (1996). "The Valsalva Manoeuvre: A critical review". South Pacific Underwater Medicine Society Journal. 26 (1). ISSN 0813-1988. OCLC 16986801.
  8. ^ Roydhouse, N; Taylor, D (1996). "The Valsalva Manoeuvre. (letter to editor)". South Pacific Underwater Medicine Society Journal. 26 (3). ISSN 0813-1988. OCLC 16986801.
  9. ^ Hidir, Y; Ulus, S; Karahatay, S; Satar, B (August 2011). "A comparative study on efficiency of middle ear pressure equalization techniques in healthy volunteers". Auris Nasus Larynx. 38 (4): 450–5. doi:10.1016/j.anl.2010.11.014. PMID 21216116.
  10. ^ Roydhouse, N (1998). "Ear drum rupture in scuba divers". South Pacific Underwater Medicine Society Journal. 28 (2). ISSN 0813-1988. OCLC 16986801.
  11. ^ Butler, F.K.; Thalmann, E.D. (June 1983). "Report of an isolated mid-frequency hearing loss following inner ear barotrauma". Undersea Biomed Res. 10 (2): 131–4. PMID 6612898.
  12. ^ Edmonds, C; Blackwood, FA (December 1975). "Disorientation with middle ear barotrauma of descent". Undersea Biomed Res. 2 (4): 311–4. PMID 1226589.
  13. ^ Fagan, P; McKenzie, BJ; Edmonds, C (1975). "Sinus Barotrauma In Divers". Royal Australian Navy, School of Underwater Medicine Technical Report. Project 1-75.
  14. ^ Richardson, Drew (2006). Padi Open Water Diver Manual. Professional Association of Diving Instructors. ISBN 1-878663-16-X.
  15. ^ a b Staff (January 2001). "Ears and Sinuses". Alert Diver. Divers Alert Network. Retrieved 9 November 2013.
  16. ^ "Gymnastique de la trompe d'Eustache". apnee.ffessm.fr (in French). Fédération Française d'Études et de Sports Sous-Marins. Archived from the original on 28 November 2008. Retrieved 13 July 2014.
  17. ^ "The BTV softest method "to clear your ears"". Retrieved 29 October 2015.