Ears and sinuses, how to take care of them.

By Max Tapper
06/03/2022

Before – During – After a spearfishing day!

From beginners to experienced spearos we all at some point have struggled with our ears and/or sinuses. Here is a simple guide to help you prevent Ear-Nose-Throat (ENT) problems.

A little bit of anatomy of ears and sinuses

Your ears are composed of 3 areas.

The outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear:


Ear anatomy

Your sinuses are empty cavities covered with a mucous membrane. 

There are 4 pairs of them and they are situated:


Sinuses anatomy
Illustration credit : Maya Chastain

Good ENT hygiene habits will prevent equalisation (E.Q) problems.

Ear issues have different sources. In the following paragraphs we’re gonna run you through how to prevent the most common causes of ear and sinus issues in spearfishing.

Before a day spearfishing

Hydration plays an important role in your EQ and you should include it in a before-during-after dive routine . The eustachian tubes are lubricated with mucus and if your hydration is too low this mucus then will get thicker and stickier which will result in EQ difficulties of your ears and sinus.

Following good hydration you should keep an eye on your diet. It might have an effect on your mucus layers. Alcohol is to be avoided as it increases dehydration. Also some people are more reactive to food allergens (gluten, lactose). Then reviewing your overall food intake could help you clear blocked sinus.

It is highly recommended to NOT use cotton butt to clean your ears but use warm water to melt and flush out any wax.

When possible before your day diving avoid dusty environments or air conditioning. Both are creating “inflammation” of the mucus membranes resulting in that feeling of being “bunged up”.

Then using a “Neti pot” on a regular basis can help to keep your sinuses clear especially for the spearfisher man or woman working in a dusty environment (e.i wood workshop, building site). It is basically a flush with saline solution.

Nasal wash

Some divers may like to use almond oil to soften the ear canal and the ear drum. This is making the eardrum more flexible and will prevent ruptures to a certain point but in any case it doesn’t stop you performing proper EQ. The layer of hydrophobic oil may prevent the dryness of your ear canal.

Then we can talk about EQ, and EQ classes. I would recommend following EQ classes to anyone and even more to beginner spearos. Learning the different technic of equalisation such as Vasalva, Frenzel or free hand equalisation.

There are experts in the matter, such as David Melor, British freediving champion (https://www.facebook.com/david.mellor.1213 ). He runs some awesome on-line classes that will help you master EQ before even jumping in the water.

While spearfishing

EQ mastering is a key in preventing damage to your ear and sinus. When we think of EQ we are often focusing on eardrum tears or ear infections but a “wrong” EQ can lead to more complications that can affect the middle and inner ear. The consequence of this damage is that you may have long term or irreversible conditions such as tinnitus, hearing loss or balance impairments. If you are forcing your EQ you might succeed equalising but the air that you manage to force through might stay trapped in the cavity on ascent. It is called “reverse blocked ear”. If your ears or sinus don’t “pop” stop your descent and be sensible. Call the day out. Just an example: a burst eardrum is a 6 to 8 week minimum recovery.

The pissette, it is this funny appendage of neoprene that pops out of your crotch. It will make most of the people around you smile but it will prevent your wee flushing up and down your suit when you duck dive. Urine getting to your ears is a catalyst for bacteria development in your ears. Sorry ladies, no pissette for you yet.

Pissette
Pissette or wee-tube

Hat, buff or any other ear covers. This section is most applicable for boat divers when moving from spot to spot. In our “fresh weather” the cold flow of air on your ears may activate an “immune” body response. It is known as “surfers ears” or exostose. It is described as an overgrowth of bone inside your ear canal. In the long run it can obstruct partially or almost completely the canal which is enough for trapping water/wax in between the bones and the eardrum. Then it will cause all sorts of ear issues and most commonly repeated ear canal infection and hearing loss. Also the cold on your sinus could lead to sinusitis.


Exostose Surfer's ear

After a day spearfishing

Rinse – clean – dry are the three steps of your ears care routine post dive. Once back in your shower at home make a cup shape with your hand around the bottom part of your ear. Then fill it up with warm (not burning) water, keep it for 10 sec and empty. Repeat the process about 5 times on each side. Then drain the water out by leaning your head side to side and dry gently with a towel.

Ear drops, i will mention only ear drops composed of diluted alcohol and cider vinegar. It works on two different levels; the alcohol part helps drying out when the acid is lowering the pH which combined prevent the development of bacteria. However, I wouldn’t recommend using these solutions after every day of diving. The drying effect of the alcohol can end up being more detrimental. It may cause the skin of the ear canal to be too dry and start desquamating and be itchy. I personally use it after a few days of diving if I feel a little “tingling” in my ears.  In any case if the discomfort carries on or increases after 24h you should seek medical advice.

Conclusion

Over the years I have learned these habits. I am sharing this information with you now so you can have the best chance to make the most of your spearfishing season. It really is no fun having to sit out when the weather is perfect for a great day at sea!

Your ears and sinuses are delicate. Look after them to make sure you will be able to dive throughout your spearfishing season without trouble.

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