Does Snuba Hurt Your Ears? Uncovering the Truth

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  24.01.2023
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Does snuba hurt your ears? It’s a question that many people ask, as you are basically diving just like with scuba.

Snuba can hurt your ears just like scuba and even snorkeling can. The pressure outside your ears can increase rapidly from 0 to 10 feet or even 20 feet so you should take proper equalizing measures to avoid ear squeeze and don’t snuba with an ear condition.

As an instructor, I can tell you that it is not painful and you’ll feel just fine. But as always, there are some precautions you should take. So let’s look at those as well.

Does snuba hurt your ears

Exploring the Painful Depths of Ear Squeeze

What is Ear Squeeze?

If you’ve ever gone for a dip in the pool and felt a sudden, sharp pain in your ears, you’ve experienced the dreaded ear squeeze. It’s a common problem for scuba divers, who are exposed to the increased water pressure as they descend deeper and deeper into the sea.

The Symptoms of Ear Squeeze

The symptoms of ear squeeze can range from mild to severe:

  • A feeling of fullness in the ear
  • Uncomfortable swelling and bulging of the eardrums
  • Severe pain if the pressure continues to increase
  • Risk of eardrum bursting
  • Nausea, dizziness, and vomiting

How to Avoid Ear Squeeze

If you’re a snuba diver, it’s important to know how to clear your ears and when to abort a dive to prevent any permanent damage. Here are some tips to help you avoid the pain of ear squeeze:

  • Equalize your ears as you descend – this helps to reduce the pressure on your eardrums
  • Don’t dive too deep – stick to depths that you’re comfortable with
  • If you start to feel pain, abort the dive and ascend slowly
  • Make sure to take regular breaks during your dive to give your ears a chance to adjust to the pressure

Equalizing Pressure in the Ears

Open Water Divers

  • All Open Water divers are taught the basics of equalizing the pressure in their ears, but it’s usually just a brief explanation.
  • Equalizing is done by clamping the nose shut with your fingers and blowing into it. This forces extra air into the middle ear spaces, increasing the air pressure and pushing back against the water.
  • The main risk of equalizing is blowing too hard. Don’t do it! It’s better to swim up a few feet and try again than to risk injuring your ears by blowing too hard.


  • Snorkelers may or may not know about equalizing the pressure in their ears.
  • If you’re a snorkeler, it’s important to learn the basics of equalizing the pressure in your ears.
  • Don’t blow too hard! It’s better to swim up a few feet and try again than to risk injuring your ears by blowing too hard.

Snuba lies somewhere in the middle of snorkeling and scuba, you don’t go as deep as with scuba but you do go deeper and for longer than with snorkeling.

As even snorkeling can cause you ear discomfort, so can snuba.

Ears in the Shallow End of the Pool

The Pressure is On

  • It may sound crazy, but for most divers, the pressure on their ears is greater in shallow water.
  • Pressure is measured in “atmospheres,” with one atmosphere being the same pressure you’d feel standing in the air at sea level.
  • Every 33 feet of depth adds an extra atmosphere to the pressure, so the deeper you go, the more pressure you feel.
  • But in shallow water, even small changes in depth can make a big difference, so divers have to be extra careful to equalize their ears more often.

The Deep End is Deeper

  • Going from the surface to 33 feet doubles the pressure, while going from 33 feet to 66 feet only increases it by half. With snuba, you go from 0 to 10 feet or sometimes 20 feet deep so the pressure increases rapidly.
  • That means the shallows can be a real pain in the ears if you’re not careful.
  • So if you’re a diver who likes to stay close to the surface, you’d better be prepared to equalize your ears more often.
  • Otherwise, you might find yourself in a real pickle.

What’s the Deal with Ear Pressure With Snuba?

What’s the Pressure Got to Do with It?

As you dive deeper underwater, the pressure outside your ears increases drastically. It’s why submarines have to be highly pressurized to stop them from getting squished. Your ears are similar in that way – usually the pressure inside and outside is the same, so you don’t even think about it. But when you dive, there’s water outside your ear and air inside your ear (the middle ear, to be exact). Your body can usually balance this pressure, but it needs the air pressure to reach the inner surface of the eardrum. That’s the job of the eustachian tube.

What’s the Eustachian Tube Got to Do with It?

The eustachian tube links your ears to your nose and throat, and opens and closes to regulate the middle ear pressure. If it’s not functioning correctly, you’ll feel the ‘ear squeeze’.

Can I Avoid Ear Injuries?

Yep! Ear injuries from diving are totally preventable. All you need to do is learn how to equalize the pressure in your ears before diving. Sound familiar? If you’ve ever been on a plane, you’ve probably felt it in your ears. When the plane takes off or lands, the air pressure changes. People usually recommend chewing gum during a flight, and they’re not wrong. The movement of your jaw can open up the eustachian tube, helping your ears equalize the pressure.

Factors that can Increase Ear Pain with Snuba

Common Cold

  • Got the sniffles? You’re not alone! The common cold can cause your eustachian tube to be a bit wonky, making ear pain more likely.
  • Hay fever sufferers, you’re not off the hook either! Allergies can cause ear pain, so make sure you take your meds.

Smokers and Other Pre-Existing Conditions

  • If you’re a smoker, you’re more likely to experience ear pain when diving.
  • Other pre-existing conditions, such as nasal polyps and facial trauma, can also increase your risk of ear pain.

Advice for Prospective Divers

  • If you’re planning to go snuba diving and you have a respiratory illness or sinus problems, it’s best to sit this one out.
  • Your instructor should discourage you from diving if you have any of these conditions.

Understanding the Risks of Ear Pain from Snuba

The Risk of Perforating the Eardrum

  • If you’re feelin’ ear pain while you’re goin’ down, it’s time to stop and equalize.
  • If you can’t equalize and the pain persists, it’s time to abort the dive and head back up.
  • If you keep goin’ down with the pain, you’re at risk of perforatin’ your eardrum.
  • This can lead to disorientation, dizziness, and nausea, which ain’t no fun when you’re underwater.
  • Once your eardrum’s been perforated, it may never be the same again, so you could be stuck with recurrent problems that keep you from divin’ in the future.

Preventing Ear Pain

  • The best way to avoid ear pain is to make sure you’re equalizing properly.
  • If you’re not sure how to do it, ask your snuba instructor for help.
  • Be sure to take your time when you’re descending and ascendin’ so you don’t put too much pressure on your ears.
  • If you’re still havin’ trouble, you can try using specialized ear drops to help with the pain.
  • If you’re still havin’ trouble, it might be best to avoid snuba altogether.

Also read: is snuba dangerous? Find out about safety

Treatment Options for Ear Pain After Snuba

When to Seek Medical Attention

  • Usually, ear pain from scuba diving is just a temporary annoyance and will go away on its own in a few days.
  • But if it sticks around, it’s probably a good idea to get a doctor involved.
  • If your eardrum is perforated, it’ll usually heal itself without any medical help.
  • Just make sure to keep your ear dry during the healing process, or else you might end up with a nasty middle ear infection.

What to Expect at the Doctor

  • When you go to the doctor, they’ll probably ask you a bunch of questions about the dive, as well as your medical history.
  • Then they’ll take a look at your ear with an otoscope to check out your eardrum.
  • They’ll be looking for any perforations, as well as any signs of eustachian tube dysfunction.
  • They’ll also be keeping an eye out for hearing loss, which can be a side effect of a perforated eardrum.
  • If they think it’s necessary, they might refer you to an Audiologist for further testing.
  • The Audiologist will do a middle ear function test called a tympanogram to get more info about the health of your middle ear.

Ear Barotrauma

What is it?

Ah, ear barotrauma. It’s the bane of any diver’s existence! It’s what happens when you don’t equalize properly and your middle ear fills up with serum and blood. It’s a real bummer, ’cause it’ll leave you with a feeling that your ear is full of liquid and it won’t drain. Plus, your hearing will be muffled.

Inner Ear Barotrauma

This is the one you get when you blow too hard to equalize. It’s not fun. You’ll get vertigo, which can lead to puking, hearing loss, and ringing in the ears. Yikes!

What to Do?

If you get either type of barotrauma, you gotta do something about it right away. Here’s what you should do:

  • Get to a doctor ASAP
  • Don’t try to equalize too hard
  • Take it easy and don’t push yourself too hard


Snuba diving can be a great experience, but it’s important to know the risks. If you’re feeling any kind of ear pain while diving, it’s important to stop and equalize the pressure in your ears. Otherwise, you risk perforating your eardrum!

So, if you’re ready to take the plunge, just remember: “Don’t be a fool, equalize your ears in the pool!”

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Kauai Surf Report is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new sports with everything surfing at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2019 to help loyal readers with surfing and water sporting tips.