Just got out of the ocean from teaching at Honaunau, an amazing dive site where we often see pods of dolphin swimming and hear whales singing. Today was day three of an intermediate freediver course I’m teaching in Kona, HI. It was a wonderfully calm day, as it usually is in Kona, even if it was a little overcast.
On day three in the ocean we often try to reach between 66 and 100 feet, barring any equalization issues, but unfortunately everyone in my group seemed to have some pretty decent barotrauma (pressure-related traumas, usually to the ears) issues with their ears, keeping them from hitting their targets (100 feet!) today. Even though it seems like freedivers would usually be limited in their depths by their breath-hold time, more often than not divers are actually stopped by their inability to equalize at a certain depth. I’ve found that to be fairly true from new divers to experienced folks going for records.
The key to a great dive weekend, top-notch performances in competitions and personal bests in classes is to take care of your ears, and doing so isn’t always intuitive. Here are a few things I’ve adopted to make sure my ears are in tip-top shape when I am heading out to teach or to tackle new records.
1. Invest in Mucinex. Mucinex (in the blue labeled bottle) contains the drug Guaifenesin, an expectorant that loosens congestion. Even if you feel fine and don’t notice the congestion, you can often have blockages in your sinuses, eustachian tubes, etc. Mucinex works to help your body expel that congestion, but only works if you take it a few days prior to diving. For a good weekend of diving I’ll start taking Mucinex two days prior and stay on it until I’m done diving. And no, Mucinex does not sponsor me.
2. Hydrate. When your body is properly hydrated everything works better, from your muscles to your brain. It also helps thin out any congestion you do have, which also helps you expel it prior to diving. If you don’t have to pee in your wetsuit after being in the water for about 10 minutes then you’re dehydrated.
3. Invest in a sinus rinse. Sinus rinses are saline flushes that clear out the sinuses around your nose. They help remove any immediate congestion.
4. If you often have lots of blockage try reducing your dairy intake. Dairy, in my experience, really causes lots of congestion. After being off it for a couple of days I’m breathing way clearer.
5. Equalize more often than necessary! When I’m diving I pop my ears non-stop. Between the surface and 10 meters/33 feet I probably pop my ears around 15 times. If you wait until you feel pressure or pain then you are over-flexing your tympanic membrane (ear drum) and potentially causing barotraumas and breaking blood vessels, creating inflammation and swelling. Pushing it further than the point of pain can perforate your ear drum and REALLY ruin your diving day.
6. Let your ears dry fully after a day of diving. Avoid letting them stay moist under a hood and if you have regular issues with ear infections (like me!) you can use an ear rinse. I regularly use ear drops that are made of about 70% vinegar 30% alcohol to avoid swimmer’s ear.
7. If you finish a day of diving and feel like your ears are full of water that won’t come out, make sure to let them heal properly. Take ibuprofen to reduce swelling, take sudafed to help clear your ears and sleep with your affected ear high to allow blood and body fluids that are filling your ear to drain back into your body.
Hope this helps some of you maximize your dive weekends! I know these little tips changed my freediving life, so hopefully it does the same for you!