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Very new freediver burst eardrum

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New Member
Sep 24, 2004
Please read- I know it's long and rambling but I am medicated with a bum ear.

I have been snorkeling all my life- learned scuba about 9 years ago- have been a chef for the past ten years and the past 5 or 6 have had no time for fun. I moved back home to birmingham, alabama from new orleans and was immediately bored. I remembered the quarry I was certified in and started freediving. My max breath hold is 3:30- did a really tough 4:00 last night. First time out I couldn't go past 30 feet.
Today I was swimming with the scuba people in a sunken school bus at 70' or 23 meters ( why do we damned americans have to have our own measurement system- drives this newbie crazy why can't we just go metric)- anyway. Was having a great day today and I have been loving freedving- loving it!!!!!- 8 years ago after scuba diving all day I did a quick freedive - I know, bad- didn't know then- and burst my eardrum going down too fast or didn't pressurize fast enough or my eardrums were really tender_ have had ear problems since a child but great hearing-

Today same thing- went down going for 94 feet(33m) didn't have enough air halfwaydown just knew it and wanted to play it safe. Saw my snorkel cruising downwards past my fins but needed air. Stupidly instead of waiting to re-oxygenate (correct term?) my blood. I surfaced. Took a couple of breaths. DEEP Breath- went down got to 50-60 feet and realized I was being silly- I needed air, my snorkle wasn't that important- it's only 100' in that spot any way. So I was going down really fast and made a quick decision to be safe and stopped quickly to go back up-------BURST! What do I do. This is the second time- last was 8 years ago but the doc said it broke where the scar tissue was and I was to NEVER EVER Dive again! NEVER! No way! I love this too much. Please HELP!
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Go see an otolaryngologist (ENT). Preferrably one who dives him/herself or has experience with diving related ear problems. They may offer a more specialized opinion and possibly have some reconstructive surgical treatment.

When you are better and do get back in the water...be careful on that ear.
I did go to an ENT. He is a friend of the family and he was very surprised that my former ENT had told me I could dive again. He did not take my, "Well, I will definitely listen to your warning about not getting the ear wet anytime in the next month or so but the NEVER DIVE AGAIN part I couldn't really hear as you see doc, I just burst my eardrum."
There has to be people that this happens to. My new freedive friend says a lot of the pros will have ruptures during record attempts.
Reconstructive eardrum surgery? Maybe I can be like steve austin- the six million dollar man
thanks for the reply
A guy up here in Calgary, Wilf is/just had his eardrum replaced/repaired surgically. I don't really know the details. Wilf if your out there, please enlighten us.

I also know that there is an ENT, I think on the west coast US somewhere that has focused his work on diving (typically scuba guys) related problems. I read about it a while back in scubadiving magazine. I don't remember his name, but he guys at Rodale's (www.scubadiving.com) may be able to help.
"why can't we just go metric"
I'll give you some Karma for that :D

<edit> Oh and of course good luck with your ear drum!
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That's a very sad story.

Thousands of people dive after ear drum injuries.

A perforated eardrum doesn't automaticaly say that you can't dive EVER again. It depends on how/if it heals. Even with a scar on it which will limit it's flexibility, as long as it healed completly and your middle ear is in a different compartment from the rest of the world I can't see why you won't be able to dive again.

It all depends on how it will heal, ask your ENT as to WHY you can't dive again. Good luck with that.
Hi Jsh,

Welcome to DB, sorry about your ear trouble. However, provided you can clear your ears reasonably quickly, I don't seen any theoretical reason why you can't continue to dive after the drum heals completely. The real questions are why and how you broke it in the first place and can you avoid that situation in the future. For most people, overpreasuring the ear enough to cause a burst would be very painful. You don't record any feeling of preasure or pain before the burst. Perhaps the scarring makes it possible to break with little preasure differential. I'll assume that you felt little, but there has got to be something. Practice noticeing what your ears feel like and practice rapid clearing. Dig into this forum on methods of clearing. There is a huge amount of stuff here. Go very slow and really study what it feels like. On the practical level, if you equalize before any significant preasure builds up, your eardrum is not in danger and, in my unlettered opinion, you should be able to dive just fine. That is a significant "if", which may take a lot of effort to achieve with enough certainty to keep you safe and satisfy your ear doc.

Good luck,

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I will dive again. There is no if's and's or but's about it. The risk vs. reward factor for me is that yes the risk is high and now maybe higher but the reward is that significant. I did feel pressure and possibly I am not equalizing quickly enough. A few days before while diving when I would equalize I would hear a high pitched whine and I had a hard time equalizing in that ear ( my right ear ). The scar tissue didn't help any either. I am looking for ways to not repeat the rupture. I plan on training in a pool with an earplug in the meantime and will not dive for at least 6 or 8 months to be absolutely safe. My eardrum ruptured the last time while freediving 8 years ago. I have been freediving for about two months or so and now it has happened again. Scuba diving has shown no problems during these past 8 years (although I have not done a whole lot) so I think it is due to me not equalizing fast enough because I am going down so much quicker. A lesson learned the hard way.
Circular Equalizing

A couple points:

#1. We have had a fellow, here on Vancouver Island, who has just had the same thing happen to him. He has had difficulty with his ears all his life, bursting them a couple times. He has just got into diving over the last while and diving relatively shallow and under normal circumstances, his eardrum burst. He didn't even feel it building up or bursting. Just knew by the sound and sensations afterwards. Continued his dive :( and was not amused to say the least later.

#2. As I recommended for him, I would also recommend for anybody with sensitive ears, difficult ears, history of rupture, etc., that you attempt to learn what I call "Circular Equalizing". I am in the process of writing a detailed explanation of it, but essentially you need to learn how to the single mouthfill equalizing technique, as explained in Eric Fattah's detailed document. Then modify this slightly so that you do not do individual equalizations, but instead maintain tongue compression to leave the eustacian tubes open throughout the descent. As you are about to run out of air, you open your throat whilst squeezing air up from your lungs in a valsalva maneuver, to IMMEDIATELY maintain pressure on the eustacian tubes as you fill your mouth once again. This is essentially two things at once. A valsalva maintenance equalization and a mouthfill. The thing to keep in mind is that you don't let your eustacian tubes close, so it is not technically an individual valsalva equalization. Close off the throat when the mouthfill is complete and IMMEDIATELY switch to tongue compression. Cycle this until your depth, or until you can no longer do the mouthfill.

The benefits I see of this technique, is that you are not allowing the eustacian tubes to close, therefore you can maintain a constant pressure on the ear drums. This stops the scenario where you have sudden opening of the eustacian tubes followed by sudden pressure on the eardrum. As well this assist for people who can perform an equalization but often their tubes get "sticky" or tired as they continue to equalize. The continual open and closing of the tubes can create an environment that is more suceptible to sealing shut, due to fatigue, swelling, and suction created in the closing. Or that at least is the theory I have so far.

So, overall I see this as a much safer means of equalizing for all, and much more pleasurable as you are diving, except that it would not be viable to do handsfree, unless you tightened your mask considerably. The pleasure coming from the fact that you are never equalizing or feeling a change in pressure in your ears. It is silent and smooth.


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That's a great idea. I play clarinet and saxophone, so I am already familiar with circular breathing, and hadn't even thought about applying the idea to equalization. I will have to try this out next time I am in the water... Let me know if you want any help writing that document.
I am unfamiliar with how circular breathing is accomplished, but from my description you are saying they are the same? Or similar? What facets can you see being the same?

I would love to play the didgeridoo, so maybe I am already half way there? ;)



PS. Let me know if you are successful at the technique in the water. I am trying to assess how difficult it is for people to learn. I think that the greatest learning curve would just be learning the single "continuous" mouthfill, for most. Thanks.
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In circular breathing you breathe in two phases.
1) You exhale at a constant rate.
1.5) You continue exhaling at constant rate allowing your cheeks to puff out.
2) You close your mouth off from your breathing tract and breathe in through your nose while pushing air out using your cheeks.
2.5) To transition back to 1 you must start breathing out while you are still pushing air out with your cheeks.
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OH MY .... Well I am working on it, but circular equalizing requires much less dexterity... in my opinion. At least I didn't make all sorts of snorts and gasping sounds when I first attempted it!!!!:( My girlfriend thinks I look pretty ridiculous here, kinda like I am having a samba, but no it is merely me trying to exhale and breathe at the same time!:duh
There are hundreds totorials about[ame=http://www.google.de/search?hl=de&ie=UTF-8&q=circular+breathing&meta=]circular breathing[/ame].

Good luck with didge!
I can relate to your plight, Jsharbel. I was told in June that I had a rather large anterior perforation in my ear drum. The ENT told me that because of the size and location of the perforation, there was only about a 10% chance it would heal on its own, and also that there was little chance of a successful typanoplasty (patching the hole with a skin graft). He recommended "pursuing girls" over pursuing freediving records... That just would not do. I went to another ENT who told me he could, and has, repaired similar ruptures with great success. He advised me to wait until November to see if the hole heals at all on its own and then to decide on getting the surgery.

All I know is... I'll do anything to get back in the water without an earplug. Fortunately, the off-season is growing closer. For now, I can live with pool training.

I hope that everything turns out ok for you. Keep us updated on the progress. I am no doctor, but feel free to contact me to chat about our temporary (hopefully) tympano terror.
I know this is a little off-subject, but I have a question. If you are able to open your e-tubes whenever you want, would there be any reason you shouldn't leave them open while diving down? I do this, and it doesn't seem to create any problems.
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Of course that is ideal, if there is no side-effects!

How many dives do you do in a session where you leave them open for the whole dive?

Everybody has different variances in the control of eustacian tubes, so some things that relate to your question are:

- Some fatigue can occur in holding the eustacian tubes open, or even opening and closing them. This can end up making opening them impossible later on in the session.

- Some may not have the muscular strength or dexterity to hold the eustacian tubes open. They can just do bursts of flexing the muscle. Maybe this can be trained.

- Some may not have the muscular strength or dexterity to hold eustacian tubes open through a pressure change. If they can provide a constant pressure in the opened eustacian tube, they may be able to overcome this.


all is not lost!

Tympano Terror! I like it..

just a few reassuring words from someone who has been there...

In 2002 and 2003, I perforated and ruptured both ear drums, on scuba and freediving several times. Depending on the severity this involved six weeks out of the water for a big rupture (or in the pool with ear plugs) down to just one week for the tiny holes... I saw several docs and a couple of specialists. Every time, they popped before they hurt.

One theory is that this happened because I had grommets in my ears as a kid and the scars were still there so pressure wasn't spreading evenly across the drum.

Anyhow... I have now adapted my equalisation technique to equalise earlier and more often, dive a bit slower on the first part of the descent and.. touch wood.. I haven't had a problem for about a year...

so it doesn't mean you have to give up, just play carefully for a while! and while they are fixing.. keep em dry.. even in the bath or shower. Get some swimmers ear plugs and use them when you go near any kind of water... that way they heal a lot quicker.

So far the only problems have been because of congestion from diving in a chlorinated pool. My open water diving isn't very extensive, but this technique has been effective with scuba and freediving in open water. In fact, it seems to be easier in the ocean. I haven't gone very deep (beginner), but everything has been good so far.
Uh, I haven't counted the number of dives in a session. It would be interesting to keep track of that. Thanks for the suggestion.:)
Originally posted by BatRay
I know this is a little off-subject, but I have a question. If you are able to open your e-tubes whenever you want, would there be any reason you shouldn't leave them open while diving down? I do this, and it doesn't seem to create any problems.
Yes. If you're opening your e-tubes by pressure continuously created from your diaphragm (continuous valsalva), you might be more susceptible to lung squeeze because you're breathing muscles arent relaxed thuss you reach your residual volume (a fake one) earlier. It shouldn't hurt for normal fun dives I think, less than 30m and such. Each person is different.

Another issue with continuous valsalva is a buildup in intrathoraic blood pressure, not sure about that though.

For begginers who can't equalize any other way, it's a good practice, but you can't take that method very far I think.

The only way I can keep my e-tubes open for the whole duration of a dive is with a continuous valsalva. But I have no problem using the frenzel.
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