Ears & Diving

Ears & Diving

Aural Hygiene

Having a clean ear canal is important for divers. In extreme cases, earwax can form a plug and trap air between itself and the eardrum, which can cause an "explosive" tympanic membrane perforation that tears outward instead of the more common inward perforation.

In addition, an earwax plug could prevent water from chilling one ear, while the other is naturally chilled by water filling the ear canal. This temperature differential between the two ears causes caloric vertigo.

Finally, a wax plug may prevent proper drainage from the ear canal. The retained moisture may cause softening of the skin and pave the road to infection.

So, how should you clean your ears?

The Wrong Ways

Avoid cotton-tipped swabs. The cotton-tip applicators may push wax deeper into the ear, making wax removal more difficult. In addition, the ends of the cotton-tip applicators can detach and be left in the ear canal. In a few days this usually results in a severe ear-canal infection. If this happens, the cotton should be identified and removed by a qualified physician. Do not ever attempt to do this yourself; you could tear your eardrum.

Handling Insect Infections

Occasionally, people who sleep outdoors or who live in warm areas can get insects in their ears. An insect in the ear can be an alarming experience. For removal, you'll need a cool head, especially if the insect is still moving or stinging.

In the field, you can use rubbing alcohol, which rapidly drowns the insect and cleanses the ear canal. It is also acceptable to use a bulb syringe filled with a warm soapy water (such as baby shampoo) and hydrogen-peroxide solution. If this is unsuccessful, get medical help right away. The preferred method is removal by a qualified physician with special instruments and a microscope.

The Right Way

So, how should you clean your ears? When you bathe, occasionally wash your ears with a bulb syringe filled with warm soapy water and hydrogen-peroxide solution. On a diving trip, use a mixture of half white vinegar and half rubbing alcohol after a day's diving; this serves to cleanse and dry the ear canal as well as change the pH balance to make the area less prone to bacterial infection. This can also help prevent swimmer's ear (otitis externa).

If you have a hard time getting water out of your ears, try using a hair dryer. It's a good idea to lift the ear upward and back to straighten the ear canal and then to blow warm dry air into the ear canal for five minutes. Take special care to ensure the air is not too hot.

Remember that ear care is as basic and important as the care of any of your other diving equipment.