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Equalizing for kids

Discussion in 'Diving Physics, Physiology, & Medicine' started by Keith Blair, Jun 9, 2021.

  1. Keith Blair

    Keith Blair New

    # of Dives: I'm a Fish!
    Location: Clearwater, FL
    My kids are currently going through their open water certification course. My daughter (14) has had no problems but my son (12) is having some persistent issues with equalizing his ears during the pool sessions.

    At this point he's only got one more pool session/class and he's already missed the first open water dive. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed in the lack of help from his instructor.

    I've tried every trick I know from when I ran certification classes and we haven't been able to reliably resolve it. I've honestly never encountered a student with issues like this so I'm hoping someone here can help.

    I've tried going through all the various methods of equalizing but the only one he's able to ever have any kind of success with is valsalva. I suspect at least part of this is due to his age and general inexperience with "feeling" his inner ear or moving his ear muscles. Regardless, valsalva is the only thing he can do.

    What's strange (to me) is that sometimes he's able to clear his ears (usually by looking up) and then suddenly he can't do it anymore. This might happen on the very next attempt or he may do it fine a dozen times then suddenly he can't. Quite often he can clear his right ear but not his left. Sometimes pointing his left ear up works, other times not.

    Has anyone else experienced a similar situation or have any "child specific" advice for equalizing? I have no problem taking him to an ENT Dr, but in the near term I'm really hoping to help him get safely through his open water dives.

    Thank you in advance!
  2. wetb4igetinthewater

    wetb4igetinthewater Instructor ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Seattle
    davecampbell likes this.
  3. Scuba Client

    Scuba Client Banned

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Australia
    There are several equalizing techniques; here's a few: Valsalva, Toynbee maneuver, Lowry, Edmonds technique. Both both ears must click, but always do it gently.
  4. Keith Blair

    Keith Blair New

    # of Dives: I'm a Fish!
    Location: Clearwater, FL
    Thank you kindly for the response. I'm aware of the various techniques and we've tried them all, unfortunately without any luck. I do believe it's partly due to his youth and not being familiar with focusing on that specific area of his body.

    I've been taking him to the pool every day this week to try and work with him before his final class tomorrow and open water dive this Sunday, but we haven't been making much progress. Yesterday for example, he was able to equalize on the second attempt, then for the rest of the time he could only do his right ear. Note that while we've been at the pool every day, it hasn't been hours of non-stop equalizing attempts. We'll try a couple times then take a break for half an hour or so and try again. After reading several threads here, I'm super concerned about him pushing too hard and/or overdoing it.

    I've already cleaned his ears (he's known for having more wax than a Yankee Candle store so we've got one of those water spray ear cleaner things) and am somewhat confident that's not the issue. He doesn't have any vertigo or other symptoms indicating any inner ear issues or water in the ear, etc. He did have a cold about 3 or 4 weeks ago, but I'm assuming that should be cleared out by now. However I'm thinking of trying Sudafed before going to the pool today to see if that helps. I wouldn't want that to be the permanent solution if it works, but we really need to get him able to do his pool work tomorrow night and his dive this weekend. Fortunately the pool work is only 10' and the dive will be 21' max (where they'll likely be doing their skills check) with the majority of it a 5-10' deep drift dive in fresh water.

    I've also considered the possibility of the problem being mental (fear/nervousness about being underwater, etc) and I don't think that's the issue either. As best I can tell from playing Dr. Daddy Freud and talking with his sister, he's super excited about being underwater and has no concern about 'bad things' happening.

    Maybe we'll get lucky and his instructor will do some work with him tomorrow night instead of threatening that if he isn't able to do his dive this weekend that he'd have to take the class again. I'm doing everything I can to avoid playing 'armchair instructor' but I can't help but think to myself what I used to do to help my students in need of extra attention.. I'm pretty sure he's a fairly new instructor, and he seems like a nice guy when I talk to him, so I'm trying to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    Again, thank you for the response. I truly appreciate it.
  5. dmaziuk

    dmaziuk Regular of the Pub

    You don't have to be in the pool to pop your ears, he should be able to practice just sitting on the couch playing video games.
    wetb4igetinthewater likes this.
  6. Scuba Client

    Scuba Client Banned

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Australia
    I have spoken to others who said they weren't able to complete their OW class for the very reason. So you are not alone in that aspect. Has he ever flown or have you ever drove through a mountain pass?
  7. Keith Blair

    Keith Blair New

    # of Dives: I'm a Fish!
    Location: Clearwater, FL
    I agree and the weird thing is that more often than not he can clear his ears just fine on the surface, sitting here watching TV he could just do it again.. but as soon as he's in the water he has issues - especially with his left ear. Today at the pool he was able to clear once in the water, shortly after we arrived, then not again (under water) the rest of the time there. A few minutes after getting out of the pool, walking to the car he was able to do it fine.

    So I'm hoping it's not medical because he can obviously do it, but I simply can't figure out why one place is working and the other isn't.
  8. Scraps

    Scraps ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Florida
    I recently certified a junior open water diver who struggled to equalize on OW1 after doing fine in the pool.

    On thing we did as we worked through the various methods--and her dad was very helpful at this--was to remove all sense of time pressure and performance pressure. People who are borderline competent at equalizing seem to be less successful when they are anxious. Sometimes relaxing is all they need. So we made sure she knew it was fine to take all the time she needed and fine to try again later in the day or on another day. That still didn't work.

    After about 45 minutes, I reminded her that she swam like a fish in the confined water sessions, including playing in the pool with her siblings between dives. I asked her to take off her scuba rig, then I tied it off to the float and told her just to play in the lake for a few minutes the way she played in the pool. She swam about for a few minutes and did a few surface dives that took her deeper than she had been able to go with her scuba gear on. Once she remembered that she knew how to equalize in the context of playing, she realized she could also do it in the context of a lesson.

    It reminded me of Little League coaching days. If you take a kid who is quite capable of throwing the ball fifty feet while playing catch, put him on the mound, and tell him to pitch, there's a real good chance he'll throw worse than he does while playing catch. I'd fix that by not talking about mechanics. I'd just tell kids to throw the ball to the catcher. They could all do that once they got away from the notion that I was asking them to perform a strange new task called "pitching" and got back to the fun of throwing.

    I think there is a similar component to equalizing. The big word in the context of an official scuba lesson can make people forget that they already know how to equalize when they're fooling around in the pool with their friends.
    Keith Blair likes this.
  9. Ucarkus

    Ucarkus Contributor

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Berlin, Germany
    Buy an otovent (it is a glorified balloon) and test in land how he is equalizing. You can isolate whether the problem is in his soft palate or glottis usage or actual swollen Eustachian tubes. There are videos about how to use it for practicing equalization. For instance:
  10. Angelo Farina

    Angelo Farina Marine Scientist

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Parma, ITALY
    Well, not being able to equalize at 12 years old seems quite odd to me. Usually children learn spontaneous to equalize around 3-4 years, as soon as they are asked to play the game of retrieving toys form the bottom of the pool.
    Their eardrums are very delicate, and they start aching at just 1- 1.5 m depth.
    So, if at 12 years he is not able to equalize spontaneously, there is a serious risk that there is some medical problem, and you should have him evaluated by an ENT expert of diving and equalization.
    Only after having assessed the lack of any physiological problem you can try some exercise in the pool.
    I would avoid forcing equalization without a medical exam.

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