Be Careful With your Ears


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An animated picture of a round window blowout downloaded from Northwestern University.

 

One of the most limiting factors for freedivers is the inability to equalize at depth.  One of the most limiting factors for the freedive instructor is to teach students to equalize.  To some degree, the process of equalization, or making the pressure on both sides of the eardrum the same, is obscure.  Independent of how well you describe the sensations involved with equalization or the actual physiology of forcibly pushing air through the eustachian tubes into the middle ear, it is hard to get someone who cannot equalize to achieve this maneuver.  Instructors spend hours hosting equalization workshops, emailing documents and links, and practicing with students until they can hold their nose, close the glottis, use the tongue as a piston and push air into the middle ear.  I do not even really understand what I said in the last sentence and I can already equalize!

We preach equalizing the ears early and often to prevent a perforated tympanic membrane (eardrum).  But is that enough?  It seems to me that most freedivers are under the impression that a busted eardrum is the worse barotrauma they can experience in their ears.  As a whole, they also say that the eardrum heals quite easily.  Is this barotrauma really an issue if the tympanic membrane really heals so easily?  Are there other problems we may be glossing over?

The Question

A student of the last PFI course I taught brought up an interesting question that I relayed to my audiologist friend, Bruce, on our way to Lowe’s Home Improvement.  The student asked if the pressure change involved with equalization mimics the pressure difference your ear senses when you listen to super loud music, creating hearing loss.  I could not answer the question but it left me worried.  You see, I can only hear out of one of my ears.  I have profound hearing loss in my right ear leaving me with one “good

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About Ashley Chapman

Ashley is co-owner and operator of Evolve Freediving as well as a 3x World Record holder and 12x US National Record holder in freediving. She lives with her husband Ren and 3-year-old Ani on their trimaran sailboat in North Carolina in the summer months and the Caribbean in the winter.

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