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November 2018    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 33, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Donít Bust Your Ears

from the November, 2018 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

We all know the rule: Don't dive with a head cold. Too many times, the dilemma arises when you finally get to go on that dive trip you've been so looking forward to - and forked out plenty for - only to discover you've caught a cold.

Robert Levine (Englishtown, NJ) faced that situation earlier this year. During a Blackbeard's Cruise trip on Morning Star in the Bahamas, he had difficulty clearing his ears and finally blew so hard attempting to equalize, he damaged an eardrum and was consigned to shallow snorkeling the rest of the week. Levine says it was the first time he's ever had to call Divers Alert Network in the 26 years he has held its insurance. They were great, confirmed it was not an uncommon problem with divers, and told him to see an ENT doctor or visit a medical clinic.

"When I returned home, I went to an ENT specialist, who did a hearing test and pressure testing, then cleaned out my ears and told me that, from all my coldwater diving, I have adenoids like a skin tag in front of my ear drum," Levine says. "So, it was not easy finding the hole. I made three visits over a two-month period before getting the go-ahead to go back to diving."

Basic dive training tells us that diving with congestion can lead to ear troubles, because if your Eustachian tubes, connecting the middle ears to your throat, get blocked, it can make ear clearing on the way down virtually impossible. More importantly, without clearing your ears, a "reverse squeeze" from the same cause on the way up can break your eardrums.

"Before diving or flying, I was told I should take a Sudafed or spray my nose to make sure I can clear my ears," says Levine. "If I run into a problem equalizing, abort the dive." Sage advice.

And be glad you're not a diver for the U.K.'s Royal Navy. David Sisman, a retired Navy lieutenant commander and founder member of the British Sub-Aqua Club, told how having a cold did not excuse a diver from duty. He burst his eardrums so routinely that eventually the build-up of scar tissue started to affect his hearing. In the end, doctors gave Sisman Teflon eardrums in exchange for the worn-out ones he was born with.

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