Can You Freedive With Ear Plugs?

You might be looking for a new hobby, and if you like water and adventure, there are many great activities you can enjoy. If you’ve ever snorkeled or scuba dived, you might be looking to try freediving. One thing people want to know with freediving is can they use earplugs.

You can use earplugs when freediving, but there are a few things to remember. They must be made for freediving, and you still must exercise caution when equalizing.

I will give you important information for ear care when freediving, along with some other equalization tips. Then I will tell you what you need to know about using earplugs while freediving. Also, I’ll talk about what to look for when purchasing to get the right earplugs for freediving.

Ear Care When Freediving

If you are new to diving, read on. If you have dived before, you may want to skim down a section or two as I explain equalizing, Boyle’s Law, and other potential ear injuries briefly. Boyle’s Law says as pressure increases, the volume of gases decreases. 

An easy to understand the definition of that is as you dive deeper into the water, the pressure of the water on you increases. This makes the volume of the air in our body decrease. Density of the air increases. The balloon YouTube video examples are the best way I’ve seen to demonstrate this.

When freediving, you don’t get as deep nor do you dive for as long at a time as scuba diving, but you still must equalize your ears early and often to help avoid an ear injury. The area between your middle ear and inner ear is like a small chamber that traps in air. This is the area that is affected by Boyle’s Law. If not equalized, this can lead to middle ear barotrauma, which can be brought on by to much or lack of pressure in that area.

Note that equalizing is easier in scuba becasue you have a source of air constantly available. When freediving, your total available air is what you inhaled at the surface.

Of course, this difference is why freedivers can ascend faster than scuba divers without worrying about lung expansion. Their lungs start out and end up at surface pressure and volume. Divers lungs expand because the air they took in under pressure at depth expands as they ascend.

Ear infections are also a concern for both divers and swimmers. Water will get trapped in the outer ear and cause infections. When you get out of the water, be sure to clear your ear of all water. If some water remains, the moisture combined with and your body temperature makes it a place where bacteria can grow and spread, causing infection.

Equalization Tips

So since this is really important, how do you equalize your ears? When do you equalize? What else should you know? Here are a few tips:

  • To equalize your ears, hold your nose and blow out gently. This will fill your ear canal with air or release any pressure in that area.
  • Before freediving, do exercises that stretch the area around your Eustachian tubes.
  • Descend slowly equalizing early and often. Waiting until you start to feel pressure can sometimes mean you are too late and you have already suffered an injury to your ear.
  • Do not dive if you have a cold, suffering from allergies, or any other condition that affects breathing or your air passages.  
  • Do not wait too long to ascend. You should make sure you have to ascend in a slow controlled manner. Once again, equalize often.
  • Dive with a buddy and abort the dive if there are any signs of trouble.
  • Do not use these tips as a complete guide. If you are new to freediving, make sure you get proper instruction.
A few helpful comments on how equalization can go wrong

The Truth About Earplugs

To some, it may seem that earplugs might prevent you from being able to equalize your ears or at least make it more difficult. That is why it is important to make sure the earplugs you are using are made for freediving. Freediving earplugs are vented to compensate for the changes in pressure and volume inside of your ear while freediving.

If you use regular standard earplugs, this will create a sealed area of air inside your ear. This area CANNOT be equalized. This makes standard earplugs unsafe for diving of any type.

Freediving earplugs work a few different ways depending upon the brand. They all are vented in some form to make them safe for diving. If they trap the air completely, DO NOT use. You will not want earplugs that aren’t vented in some form.

Make sure you get the correct size of earplugs. The plugs should fit comfortably and securely. Too small will allow unwanted water into the ear, and too big of earplugs will be uncomfortable.

Another thing I must caution you on is that although manufacturers claim they are completely safe for freediving, there have not been enough independent testing done yet. I am not saying that any of the manufacturer’s claims are incorrect or that earplugs are unsafe. I am saying that I would recommend you make sure that whichever earplugs you choose are made by a manufacturer that you trust and have a reputation as trustworthy.

How to tell which Earplugs Are For Freediving? 

There are many brands of earplugs out on the market today. While all of them are vented, there are two main ways they work. As stated before, this is not a purchase where I would make a decision based on price. Besides, a visit to a doctor’s office will cost you a lot more than a set of one of the leading brand’s freediving earplugs.

One type of earplug allows a small amount of water into your ear as you start your dive. That water gets warmed to your body temperature, and the earplugs work to keep that warmer water in and the cooler water out. Having the warmer, body temperature water in your ear is supposed to make equalizing easier and less stressful on your body. The negative of that is there might be bacteria in the water, and if not cleared after diving, this could lead to an outer ear infection.

The other type only allows for air to vent in out of the ear, keeping water completely out. This will help protect against ear infections as well. These also allow for better hearing underwater than the other type. The difference with this type is they are better for sound without allowing any water into your ear, protecting against outer ear infections. 

When shopping for your first pair of earplugs, you may choose to purchase from a specialty store instead of online. Usually, at a diving shop, there will be someone on staff that is knowledgeable about earplugs to help you select the right type and right size. Also, it’s nice to have someone that can answer questions. If you are not in need of that type of service, then are many online retailers from which you can purchase your favorite brand.

Conclusion

If you are wondering if you can wear earplugs while freediving, the short answer is yes. Just make sure that you remember what we have talked about:

  • You can wear earplugs while freediving but not just any earplugs. They need to be made for freediving. 
  • Freediving earplugs will be vented in some form.
  • Be sure to equalize while freediving. Wearing earplugs do not take the place of equalization.
  • There has not been a lot of independent research on the use of earplugs while freediving. Use with caution.

Freediving is fun and enjoyable, just make sure you take the necessary precautions before you go on your adventure.


References

https://manta-dive.com/blog/ear-injuries-and-diving-everything-you-need-to-know

https://www.diversalertnetwork.org/health/ears/earplugs

https://gofreediving.co.uk/docs-proplugs-for-equalisation


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Tim Conner, M.D.

Tim Conner, M.D. started boating in 1974. He has been involved in recreational boating continuously since then. Dr. Conner has been active in boating and watersports safety education for decades. He rode his first jet ski in 1997, and rejoined the personal watercraft arena in 2012 with a Sea-Doo GTX 155, followed by 2 supercharged SeaDoos. Scuba certification came in 1988, and he and the family have traveled the world snorkeling and scuba diving for decades. The family has recently taken up paddle boarding. Click the photo for a lot more.

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