Symptoms and Signs of Scuba Diving: Ear Pain

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 8/19/2021

Doctor's Notes on Scuba Diving: Ear Pain

Ear pain, as related to scuba diving, is also termed ear squeeze. When a person is scuba diving, water pressure on the eardrum causes it to stretch, initially producing a sign or symptom of a feeling of fullness in the ear. As the diver goes deeper, pressure increases on the external surface of the eardrum. This forces the eardrum inward, which inflames the eardrum and causes pain that is relatively sharp. If the pressure is not reduced, the eardrum ruptures and the scuba diver may feel like bubbles are coming from the ear, with a reduction in pain. However, almost immediately, the water enters the middle ear through Eustachian tubes.

The cause of scuba diving ear pain is increasing water pressure on the eardrum that causes it to stretch and/or tear. Some of the symptoms are due to water entering through the tear in eardrum.

What Is the Treatment of Scuba Diving Ear Pain?

Treatment varies with the severity of the problem:

  • Mild symptoms: Try to pop your ears, chew gum, and/or drink water as the swallowing helps to open Eustachian tubes.
  • If pain in the ears happens during a dive and clearing scuba techniques do not resolve the ear pain, discontinue the dive with decompression stops if necessary. Signal to your diving partner what you plan to do.
  • Severe pain (possible eardrum rupture): Have your partner assist you in case of disorientation, vomiting, and/or panic.
  • Eardrum rupture: Treatments may involve decongestants, pain medications, and antibiotics. Oral steroids may be necessary if facial paralysis occurs, and surgery may be needed if one's hearing is not better in 2 months.

REFERENCE:

Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.