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Diving with perforated / burst / ruptured ear drum

Discussion in 'Diving Medicine' started by Ben Rees, Jul 12, 2008.

  1. Ben Rees

    Ben Rees Garibaldi

    # of Dives: 25 - 49
    Location: Auckland, New Zealand
    If you have a burst or perforated ear drum and you want to scuba dive, read this. I used a mask called the Pro-Ear (see Swimming Ear Protection Diving Masks ProEar 2000) which is relatively new on the market and which apparently has no comparison in other products to enable me to successfully complete a dive trip with a sizeable hole in one ear drum.

    My experience with the Pro-Ear mask was a positive one, but comes with a big caveat. The user must be able to find a way to have the ear pieces seal properly on their head.

    I had burst my eardrum during a waterpolo training 3 weeks prior to a dive trip to Papua New Guinea. Everything I read and medical professional’s opinions sought suggested that diving was going to be out of the question. However, I found the Pro-Ear website which suggested that people with ear problems would be aided by the device. Being the only option available on the market to save my dive trip, I purchased one (from Scuba Diving Equipments | Sports Shop - Seavenger.com where prices were much better). The obvious problem with having a perforated ear drum is keeping water out, and the problem with the mask is immediately obvious – hair in a mask will cause it to leak and the ear pieces necessarily overlap much of your hair. My first day diving with the mask was a very uncomfortable one. Essentially the relevant ear piece filled with water almost immediately as it was unable to seal over my hair. I spent both dives blowing air out of the hole in my ear drum continuously as I dove deeper. On the way up the air expands so there was no problem. Although the mask features tubes running from the face mask to the ear pieces, I found that it was nigh on impossible to blow air out then nose in order to attempt to clear water from the ear pieces. At times I found it very hard to tell whether there was water in the ear piece or not anyway.

    The problem was not solved even when the mask kept out MOST of the water. This is because sooner or later when diving you will tilt your head in such a way that a little water runs into your ear. When your head is upright again, the water may not run out. Go deeper, and the water is forced in until it reaches or breaches the perforation.

    From experience only way to have the mask work properly (where the aim is to keep ALL water out of the ear) was to use a non-water soluble lubricant to create a proper seal which would not break even if the mask shifts a little on your head. Alternatively, someone with a smooth shaven head might find the mask seals without issue. I used a silicone lubricant, and lots of it, around the skirt of the relevant ear piece and also rubbed into my hair. This had the effect of gluing the ear piece to my head for the duration of the dive and worked perfectly for 7 out of 8 dives during which I used the technique.

    I therefore highly recommend the use of the mask for people who are committed to a dive excursion but who have a temporary or permanent ear drum perforation. However, as explained above, you must give consideration to how you will ensure a proper seal around the relevant ear piece. I also expect that it would be highly advisable to use anti-biotic ear drops for the duration of the trip, as I did, for safety’s sake.

    Ben Rees
    Auckland, New Zealand

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