Why I Can’t Equalize While Freediving – Reasons/mistakes & Solutions
If you find you can’t equalize while freediving, there are a few reasons why this could be. Let’s run through the most common reasons why it can be difficult and look at how to fix them to avoid discomfort and injuries.
Common equalization problems and mistakes
Let’s take a look at some common mistakes that can make people unable to equalize while freediving.
Using the wrong technique
The classical diving equalization method, the Valsalva technique isn’t ideal for freediving. You might be able to equalize a couple of times this way, but as you get deeper it will become almost impossible due to the air in your lungs compressing.
It is recommended to try to switch to the Frenzel maneuver when you are starting out on your freediving journey. It would be beneficial to seek an experienced instructor to help you do this, or check out Youtube tutorials that can walk you through it. It can be a little tricky getting used to this new way of equalizing, but much better in the long run.
To check if you are using Valsalva, you can place one hand on your stomach and equalize like you would underwater, you will be able to feel if you are using your stomach and therefore are using the Valsalva technique. The stomach should remain soft if you are using Frenzel.
Another way to check your equalization technique is to use a mirror; look at your throat while you equalize a few times and see if you can see it moving up and down. If it is, you are most likely performing a Frenzel maneuver.
Not covering the nose properly
If your nostrils aren’t completely closed during equalization, you will not be able to equalize as easily, and you will waste valuable air trying.
Make sure you are using a good-fitting mask that allows you to pinch the nose completely, or if you’re using a nose clip, make sure that it is a style that suits your nose and does not leak air.
Waiting too long
Waiting too long to equalize can cause the eustachian tubes to swell up, making it harder to equalize. Make sure to equalize on the surface, during the duck dive, and often on the descent (way before any pain occurs). Ensure they are successful equalizations aka both ears are completely clear.
Congestion can cause you to have blocked sinuses and swollen eustachian tubes which make it more difficult to equalize. If you have a cold or are a little run down, it might be best to wait before heading to the water, as it is not recommended to take decongestant medicine for freediving.
There are some facial massage techniques that help to relieve sinus blockages, and many people cut down on dairy products on their diet when freediving as this is also said to cause congestion.
If you are confident that you are using the Frenzel technique and that you are not congested, but you still cannot equalize, it might be time to see a doctor who will be able to take a look in your ears to make sure there are no medical issues that might make it harder for you to equalize.
In case you have had ear surgery such as grommets in the past, you will need to check with a doctor to make sure freediving is safe for you.
Sometimes when people are having trouble equalizing underwater they will push extra hard to “pop” their ears, and they might try to get a little deeper even though they feel ear pain. This can cause the eustachian tubes to swell up, making it even more difficult to equalize.
What happens if you don’t equalize when freediving
If you try to keep descending without successfully equalizing your ears, you will feel more and more intense ear pain. Failing to equalize or pushing too hard while freediving can lead to a middle ear barotrauma or even a perforated eardrum.
If this happens, you will be forced to stay dry for days, weeks, or even months before trying to go in the water again.
What can you do if you have troubles when equalizing
If you experience trouble equalizing underwater, try the following solutions:
- Return to the surface, wait a few minutes, and equalize a few times successfully before trying to descend again
- Yawn/swallow/move the jaw on the surface to “warm up” the ears
- Make sure your nose is properly pinched closed
- Make sure you are using the appropriate equalization technique
- Give your ears a break before trying again
- Do not try to dive deeper!
Equalization related injuries
Forcing equalizations or descending before properly equalizing your ears can cause injury. Ear barotrauma (damage to the ear tissues) is one of the most common risks of freediving. This can cause dizziness, ringing, ear pain, temporary hearing loss, and even bleeding in the ears.
Another injury that might occur is a perforated eardrum, if this happens while diving you will feel a rush of water entering the inside of the ear, you will also likely experience ear pain, dizziness, and hearing loss.
If you experience ear barotrauma or you suspect you have perforated your eardrum, seek medical assistance and follow your doctor’s advice for freediving again.
Medical conditions that can affect equalization
There are some medical conditions that might affect equalization when freediving, including:
- perforated eardrums
- ear/sinus infections
- upper respiratory infections
If you have experienced any medical conditions involving your ears, nose, lungs, throat, or sinuses, it is important that you seek advice from a doctor to see if freediving is suitable for you.
Learning how to equalize while freediving is essential for a safe and enjoyable water experience. There are many conditions that can make you fail to equalize. If you experience the issue persists, it is not just a blocked nose the reason behind the problem, so you need to get yourself checked by a medical professional and ask for help from an instructor who can help learn the right equalization technique.
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AG is a certified diver and freediver who started to explore the underwater world in 2005. He enjoys sharing his experience of the best freediving destinations and equipment tips as well. Follow him on IG!