Ear Barotrauma – The Most Common Scuba Diving Injury

Posted by James

Have you ever felt like you had water stuck in your ears or had muffled hearing after a dive? If so, you may have already experienced a mild ear barotrauma without realizing it. Ear barotraumas are the most common injury in recreational diving, yet with proper equalization techniques they are completely avoidable.

What Is Barotrauma?

A barotrauma is a pressure related injury (baro refers to pressure and trauma refers to an injury). There can be many kinds of barotraumas in diving, such as lung, sinus, and ear barotraumas.

What Causes Ear Barotrauma?

An ear barotrauma occurs when a diver cannot properly equalize the pressure in his ears with the surrounding water pressure. Common causes of an ear barotrauma are ineffective equalization techniques, congestion, exceedingly forceful equalizations, or skipped equalizations.

Ear barotrauma can occur at any depth, but is most common at shallow depths where the pressure change per a foot is the greatest.

If the pressure difference between the middle and outer ear is greater than about 2 psi (pounds per a square inch) a diver’s ear drum will be distorted to the point that he is likely to feel pain and discomfort. This pressure difference can occur by descending as little as 4-5 feet without equalizing. If the pressure difference between the outer and middle ear is 5 psi or greater, an eardrum rupture is likely.

Types of Ear Barotraumas

• Outer Ear Barotrauma
• Middle Ear Barotrauma
• Inner Ear Barotrauma

Symptoms of Outer Ear Barotrauma

During an outer ear barotrauma, a vacuum of pressure is created in the outer ear as a diver descends. This vacuum sucks the eardrum outwards and distends blood vessels and skin of the outer ear. Divers experiencing an outer ear barotrauma have reported pain and difficulty equalizing during descent. Signs may include small amounts of blood trickling from the ear canal after the dive.

Treatment and Prevention of Outer Ear Barotrauma

The burst blood vessels or damaged skin will generally heal themselves. To prevent future outer ear barotraumas, you should avoid using tight fitting hoods and ear plugs. Also, ensure that your outer ears are free of wax and other blockages.

How Can You Avoid An Ear Barotrauma?

– Don’t dive if you are sick or congested. The eustachian tubes may be congested or swollen and will not allow for efficient equalization.
– Learn to equalize properly.
– Never equalize forcefully.
– Equalize once on the surface before descending. This provides a cushion of air in the middle ears, pre-opens the eustachian tubes and gives you a margin of error in case you neglect an equalization in the first few feet.
– If you commonly have ear problems, descend feet first and head up.
– If you have equalization problems frequently, some doctors recommend practicing equalization on land daily. With practice, equalization becomes easier as you train your body to equalize properly.
– If you are prone to equalization problems, confirm that you can equalize your ears on land before beginning to dive. If you can’t equalize on land, you will not be able to equalize under water.
– Don’t use ear plugs, tight hoods, or anything that can trap air in the outer ear. Go for the best scuba masks in 2016 and best scuba gears available to buy on the market.
– Don’t dive with even a mild barotrauma. This will only worsen the injury.

Symptoms of Middle Ear Barotrauma

On Descent:

Divers report a build up of pressure and eventually pain, accompanied by an inability to equalize. There can be soreness and pressure on the eustachian tubes too as they begin to collapse from the negative pressure.

If a diver keeps descending without equalizing, the vacuum in his middle ear cavity may eventually pull on his eardrum, and it can eventually burst. Divers who have thus perforated an eardrum report a build-up of pain and pressure and then a feeling of relief as the ear drum bursts. This sensation is usually followed by a rush of coolness as water flows into the middle ear.

On Ascent:

On ascent, it feels similar to a middle ear barotrauma on descent. But the process is reversed. This is called a reverse block. Expansion of air in the middle ear on ascent causes over-pressurization of the middle ear, pushing out on the tissues and membranes. The consequences are much the same.

After the Dive:

Mild middle ear barotraumas may be recognized after a dive by the feeling of “fullness” or “water in the ears” that cannot be relived. This is caused by the accumulation of blood and body fluids in the eardrum and middle ear, not by water in the outer ear. Divers experiencing a persistent feeling of water in their ears after a dive should get checked by a doctor. You shouldn’t dive till the sensation subsides.

Muffled hearing, dizziness, popping or crackling sounds while moving the jaw, soreness of the eustachian tubes and ears, squeaking noises during equalization on subsequent dives, and fluid leaking into the throat from the eustachian tubes are all signs of middle ear barotrauma.

Treatment of Middle Ear Barotrauma

You should meet a doctor or ENT specialist immediately for a diagnosis if you experience the symptoms of a middle ear barotrauma. The severity and treatment of a middle ear barotrauma can vary.

In mild cases, many doctors will prescribe a simple decongestant to clear the eustachian tubes and fluids from the middle ear. Antibiotics may be prescribed if an infection is suspected. Topical drops usually don’t work.

Symptoms of Inner Ear Barotrauma

Divers with inner ear barotrauma have a tearing. Most divers report an immediate feeling of vertigo, possibly accompanied by nausea or vomiting. Vertigo and vomiting can be disorienting, even life-threatening, underwater. Hearing loss and tinnitus are also common signs of inner ear barotrauma.

Treatment of Inner Ear Barotrauma

Inner ear barotraumas are among the most serious ear injuries for a diver. They require immediate medical attention both for treatment and diagnosis. Inner ear barotraumas sometimes heal themselves with bed rest, but they frequently require surgery and may be a contraindication for diving in the future.


How to buy a Scuba Regulator

Posted by James

How to buy a Scuba Regulator When it comes to purchasing your first scuba regulator, many things have to be taken into consideration. We’ll explore the different types of regulator design, their advantages and disadvantages, as well as the basics of operation.
The first thought when shopping for a scuba regulator is to decide where you will be doing most of your diving. Will it be in warm water destinations, or areas where the water can be cooler or even cold. Will the regulator be used in both cold and warm water?

Next, decide on a budget. There are many manufacturers and all of them have various price ranges, based on the features and benefits of each model as well as what conditions are best for each model. Think in terms of how long you plan to keep diving.
Most of the major manufacturers have replacement parts available for regulators that are well over 20 years old. Also, remember that this is life support equipment!
Let’s look at the various types of regulators.

The simplest and the type that has been around the longest is the piston regulator. This type of first stage (the part that connects to the scuba tank) has fewer moving parts and has simpler maintenance requirements. Another advantage of a piston first stage is it’s high air flow. Typically piston regulators can generate higher air flows than other types of first stages, but this comes with a price. Piston first stages are not as reliable in colder water than other styles, but some manufacturers have incorporated various devices and technology to help prevent regulator malfunction in these conditions.

The next style of first stage is called the diaphragm style. Diaphragm first stages are the best for cold water, silty conditions, or even for salt water, as the moving parts are protected by a diaphragm. These regulators have more moving parts and can require a bit more maintenance due to their complex designs, but the reliability overrides this concern.
Some diaphragm first stages also incorporate what is known as “environmental sealing”. This technology uses a second diaphragm on the first stage to give extra protection against very cold
water and under ice diving conditions. Many divers choose environmentally sealed first stages due to the fact they can be used in any type of diving circumstance.
First stages also fall into two categories of “balanced” and “unbalanced”. Balanced first stages will deliver the same flow of air, no matter what the tank pressure is, while unbalanced first stages will allow less air to flow as tank pressure drops.
Unbalanced first stages are usually at the lower end of the price spectrum.
Lets’ look at the second stage (the mouthpiece) next.

Most second stages can be grouped into two major types: balanced and unbalanced. There are some other features associated with the second stage that may help with a buying decision, and we’ll cover those later. First, though, let’s look at the unbalanced second stage.

The lever that opens the valve upon inhalation is controlled by a spring inside the second stage. In unbalanced (some refer to this type as a “mechanical”) second stages, the spring is rather stiff. The advantage of this is that the second stage is less likely to flow a lot of air in “free-flow” conditions; in other words, the second stage is less likely to malfunction. The downside to an unbalanced second stage is that the air flow is reduced, consequently not as easy from which to breathe.

On balanced (sometimes referred to as “pneumatically balanced” or “air balanced”) second stages, the spring used is of a lighter construction, with air balancing or counteracting the spring tension, thus making these second stages extremely easy from which to breathe. These tend to be on the high end of the price range.

Other features on many second stages include venturi assist levers, which control the direction of airflow. Sometimes these are referred to as “free flow” controls. The function of these levers is to direct the flow of air through the mouthpiece in a straight line (easiest air flow) or slightly interrupted (less likely to flow air continuously). Another feature on higher-end second stages is an adjustment knob, which controls the regulator “cracking effort”; the effort required to cause the lever/valve inside the second stage to flow air to the user.
These have some benefits, in that the user can control how easy the second stage breathes. In deeper dives, the control is opened for maximum air flow, while diving into currents requires the control to be slightly reduced so the second stage does not waste air.
Maintenance is an important issue. Remember, we are dealing with life support gear. Many manufacturers offer a lifetime warranty on their regulators, provided the original purchaser brings the regulator in for service to an authorized dealer at least once per year. The dealer will inspect and clean the regulator and replace any parts needed to keep the system in top condition, and adjusts it to factory specifications.

So to summarize, the best for all conditions would be a balanced diaphragm first stage with a pneumatically balanced second stage.
The least expensive would be the unbalanced first stage coupled with a mechanical or unbalanced second stage.
When it comes to putting a system together, manufacturers will package a first and second stage together. There are many options in the marketplace. The best idea is to consult with an expert at your local dive center for suggestions and guidance on selecting the regulator that’s right for you and the conditions in which you’re planning your next diving adventure.

How to Buy Snorkeling Gear

Posted by James

Not all masks are created equal! There are marked differences when it comes to the quality of mask construction and materials. There are two types of materials used to construct most mask skirts on the market today. The first is plastic and the second is silicone. Plastic mask skirts are generally very inexpensive, and are fine for kids’ use in swimming pools, etc. Plastic mask skirts (or vinyl, or PVC) will not last as long as a silicone mask will, due to the nature of the plastic material. Plastic will crack after repeated use in the sun or in chlorinated water (swimming pools).
Silicone masks, on the other hand, will last the user upwards of ten years, if cared for properly.

Silicone mask skirts will always fit better, and give a better seal than other materials. This is because silicone has more elasticity, and can withstand repeated use in any type of water conditions. Silicone mask skirts come in two colors, clear and black, with the choice being a matter of personal preference. Clear skirts will allow more light to enter the mask, and give a brighter view of the environment. Black skirted masks, however, are very popular with photographers who prefer not to have any extraneous light entering their camera’s viewfinder.

How should a mask fit?

This is a question that has lots of answers and I will be answering everything in this post to help you select the best snorkeling gear. First, try the mask on without the strap. Place the mask on your face and inhale through your nose very lightly. You should feel an even seal around the perimeter of the mask, with no air leaking through the mask at any point. Be especially cautious of the areas next to your eyes and under your nose, where lots of folks have some little lines or creases that can prevent a mask from sealing properly. Once you’re satisfied the mask fit without the strap, go ahead and place the mask on with the strap. Is there any discomfort……do you feel any air leaking when you try to inhale?

Let’s talk about styles now. There a lots of different styles on the market today….single lens designs, twin lens, three lens and even four lens designs. As you move up in the number of lenses, the internal volume of the mask (the amount of air space inside the mask) tends to increase. This has both advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that you will get better peripheral vision from a multi-window mask. The downside is that if the mask leaks somewhat it requires more effort to clear the water out of the mask. A great feature for snorkelers is a purge valve mask. This type of mask has a small one-way valve that will allow the wearer to purge or remove the water from the mask without lifting the face from the water. All that is required is to hold the entire mask firmly against your face, and blow through your nose, keeping the purge valve at the lowest point of ther mask. This design saves energy and allows the wearer to keep their face in the water.

In it’s most basic form, a snorkel is nothing more than a tube that allows you to breathe with your face underwater. The things to look for in a snorkel are a large diameter tube, allowing air to pass freely through the snorkel, and some type of purge valve system, which lets you use the force of gravity to help you move water down through the snorkel, rather than up against the force of gravity. The purge valve on better snorkels perates the same way as those on masks…..keep the snorkel bottom in the water, and blow forcefully to move the water through the purge valve, take a cautious breath, and you’re back to snorkeling!

Snorkels cannot be more than about 17 inches long, because your lungs do not have the strength to fully move against the water pressure. Some snorkels are curved to fit the side of your head better, making the snorkel less resistant to water, causing less drag. Other models have “dry tops” on them, meaning they have special one-way valves that will close off the top of the snorkel when the user dips their head under water or if a wave comes over the top of the user’s head. These valves work great for those that have had a less than desirable previous experience, or for those that can’t purge their snorkel completely of water when it fills. The best snorkels have special mouthpieces designed by an orthodontist, to alleviate the jaw and mouth discomfort some folks have when snorkeling for extended periods.

Like masks and snorkels there are lots of different fins on the market today. Some fins are better utilized for Scuba Diving, rather than snorkeling. There are really two types of fins used, and these are full-foot or adjustable heel models. Again, each has it’s own advantages. For example, the full-foot fins, which are designed to be worn barefoot, are better for travel, as they weigh less, and are generally shorter and narrower than the adjustable heel style. The full-foot fins come in a variety of price ranges and materials, with thermoplastic blades and rubber foot pockets being most common for snorkeling fins. Adjustable heel fins require the use of neoprene booties to protect your feet from the rather stiff foot pocket.

The booties will, however, make rocky or coral shoreline entries much more comfortable, as well as warmer in cooler local waters. The downside to strap fins is their bulk…they tend to be heavier and more cumbersome for snorkeling than full-foot styles, consequently you’ll see more Wisconsin divers using this type of fin for local diving. They also provide more proulsion with scuba gear than full-foot styles can. Strap style fins may be used in both warm and cooler waters, with many folks simply changing the thickness of booties they wear when traveling to warmer waters. When selecting fins, most manufacturers make their full-foot fins in regular men’s shoe sizes. Women generally have to order one size smaller than a man’s size for best fit. Full-foot fins should be worn comfortably, but not tight, as this can cause irritation on the top of the foot and can also cause blisters in the toe area. Adjustable heel fins generally come in three sizes…small, regular, and extra large.

The small sizes generally fit shoe sizes 7 through 8, while the regular sizes fit sizes 9 thru 10, and the extra large size fits 11 and up. Some things to consider when trying adjustable heel fins: make sure you try them with booties. Next, be sure there are no tight areas; the fins should be comfortable across all parts of your foot. Extend your foot outwards to see if there are any tight spots across the top of your foot. Next, try wiggling your toes, so you’ll have good circulation. Lastly, try wiggling the entire fin side-to-side, to see how much play there is in the toe area. A little is OK, but too much will cause leg cramps. Either style of fins should feel like they’re an extension of your leg.
Some of the most popular accessories for scuba and snorkeling include lights, slates, and marine life identification cards or books. Lights are a great way to explore the marine world at night or early in the morning. Some of the most colorful and interesting life can be found once the sun goes down. Lights also help bring out the natural colors in corals and fish, because as the light passes through water, some colors like red get absorbed, and a light will bring out the true colors. Having a waterproof writing slate with you can be helpful when trying to describe a fish you saw, or when recording data about your adventure. Even the most experienced snorkeler sometimes has a difficult time remembering all the names of fish they see, so having fish ID cards with you or a set of fish ID books at home will make the job of identifyng fish and corals much easier.

Because today’s equipment is made from better materials, the need for special care is practically eliminated. There is really no other requirement other than to rinse all your gear well in fresh water as soon as possible to avoid odors or bacteria forming in your gear. There are special cleaners available for deeper cleaning; these cleaners contain enzymes that will attack the odor causing bacteria and eliminate them, while giving your gear a fresh scent. Mask skirts sometimes can have a buildup of suntan lotion on them….this is easily removed by mild detergent and warm water. Some folks use dish soap as a general purpose cleaner, as it cuts through grease and rinses away easily. Before each outing or trip, inspect all your gear for any tears, cuts, or breaks. Most locations will have spare mask straps and snorkel keepers, but why bother? Keep one of each in with your gear and you’ll never have to postpone or cancel an outing because you can’t get a replacement part.