Nothing is more maddening for a freediver than struggling with equalizing. Admitting defeat and heading back to the boat is one of the most frustrating things to deal with as a freediver.
Today I will cover 3 of the most common equalizing problems I see in my students and their solutions.
The most common ear injury you have never heard of.
Have you ever come up from a dive feeling like there is water in your ear that won’t come out? Ever headed back from a day of diving and noticed it feels your hearing is muffled? Have you noticed that after 2-3 days of diving it gets harder to equalize your ears each day? If so, you are likely suffering from an ear injury that you have never heard of: Barotitis Media.
If I ask 100 scuba divers and freedivers those three questions and have them to raise their hand if they have ever experienced any of those symptoms, I expect to see over 90 hands raised.
Almost every scuba diver and freediver have experienced one or all of these issues. Many experience them regularly. It’s so common that many divers don’t even think it’s a problem, they think it’s normal… As a scuba instructor, these symptoms affect me all the time.
I can remember coming back from a boat trip and my hearing was muffled. It felt like there was water in my ear. Swimmer’s ear did not get it out, shaking my head around while hopping on one foot didn’t work. When I went to bed that night, it was still there, so I slept with that ear down to “get the water out.”
It was not water in my ear; it was blood in my eardrum, and, in fact, when I was sleeping, I should have slept with that ear up to let the blood drain out.
Barotitis Media happens because you are not equalizing frequently enough. You are waiting till you feel the pain or pressure in your ears and then equalize. When I ask people when they equalize their ears, the common answer is “when I feel the pain or pressure.” You need to equalize before you feel pain or pressure.
During the entire diving session, your eardrum is bending in from the water pressure, because you are waiting for pain or pressure as the cue to equalize. Once it bends in so much that you feel it, then you equalize. Your body gets tired of this and says, “Hey, you suck at this, you are not supposed to let my eardrum bend in like that, so I’m going to fix it for you.” Your eardrum will then engorge with fluid… In this case, blood. This extra fluid makes the eardrum less bendy in order to counteract the fact that you keep not equalizing your eardrum, and your eardrum is forced to bend in.
So, when your hearing is muffled or it feels like water is in your ear that won’t come out, it’s not water, it’s blood. If you went to an ENT, they would see the enlarged blood vessels in your eardrum. In order to make this stop happening, the solution is very simple. It’s so simple, I guarantee you heard this advice before, but it seems so boring most people ignore it.
Equalize early and often. But I think a better way to say it is, equalize BEFORE you feel the pain or pressure. That’s it!
On my deepest dive to 279ft, I felt zero pain or pressure in my ears. How is that possible? Because I equalize every other kick. How could I feel any pain if I equalize that often?
Beginners often tell me they want to wait till the pressure builds because it feels like that makes it easier to pop, but this is not true. It makes it harder. You want to equalize BEFORE you feel the pain or pressure. Focus on this simple but powerful technique the next time you go diving.
Reduce your dairy intake to help equalizing
In every class I tell my students if they are having equalizing issues to try making some small changes to their diet. Try to minimize the consumption of dairy products. Two days before I’m going to be freediving, I start to reduce my dairy intake. I don’t avoid 100%, but I try to stay away from cheese dip, milkshakes, double cheeseburgers, etc.
For me, personally, I know this makes a huge difference, and I have had many students tell me the same. On Sunday, after I’m done teaching a class, my girlfriend Kathy tries to give me a dairy hangover by making tons of food with dairy, and when I wake up Monday morning, I can feel it’s harder to equalize.
Try minimizing your dairy intake two days before diving.
Also, increase your water intake the night and the morning before you go diving.
Valsalva vs. Frenzel – which equalizing method are you using?
If you are struggling to equalize your ears between 15-40 ft while freediving, I very likely know the reason that is happening.
There are two main types of equalizing methods I see my students use. Unfortunately for myself and my students, many new Freedivers use the Valsalva method of equalization. This method has severe drawbacks for freediving.
Valsalva typically limits divers to 15-30ft. It is very difficult to do when perfectly vertical (head down, feet up). I’ve seen people be able to get past 30ft via Valsalva, but they typically have to stop, turn around, head up, feet down, then equalize, then turn head-down again, and repeat. Talk about inefficient! I’ve also seen some success with Valsalva when going down at a shallow 30% angle. Again, very inefficient.
We want to go down straight like a laser and to be able to equalize instantly and effortlessly, and for that, we must do Frenzel!
This video does a much better job of teaching you how to determine if you are doing Valsalva or Frenzel than I could via this blog. Watch this video to diagnose if you are performing the Frenzel or Valsalva method of equalization.
If you are performing Valsalva and you are struggling to equalize head down in the 15-40ft range, now you know why!
I have taught over 1,000 people how to use the Frenzel Method since 2009. I used to require every student to do a 1 on 1 Skype session with me before class started to teach them how to do Frenzel. After doing 500 of these sessions and saying the same thing over and over again, I figured there must be a better way!
I created an online course that teaches you the exact same methodology I teach during my Skype sessions.
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