12 Tips for better ear care for divers

By Julius
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Woman putting earplug into ear

Ear pain during or after diving is, unfortunately, a frequent occurrence for many divers but completely avoidable if you take the right precautions.

Forgetting to equalize or improper execution thereof can cause barotraumas which keep you away from diving for a long time. Infections and bacteria can also put an end to a much anticipated diving vacation in no time.

As such, they should be avoided at all costs.

In this article, I will give you 12 tips for better ear care for divers before, during, and after a dive!

Follow these steps next time you are out scuba diving or on a diving trip and your ears will never bother you again!

Before the dive

If you have been asking yourself how to prevent ear infections while scuba diving, it all begins with preparation. Ear care for divers is important and using certain precautions before the dive will make this a lot easier for you.

Plan your dive, dive the plan” is the key phrase from your Open Water Diver course and it applies to protecting your ears while diving, as well.

1 Only go diving when you’re healthy

This is the big one here! Don’t go in the water with a cold, if you are on medication or if you aren’t feeling well.

Stress will make proper equalization near impossible and can quickly lead to ear pain or worse.

Proper ear care for diving begins with knowing your limits and acknowledging when it’s not a good time to dive.

Tissues and tea due to sickness
Don’t go diving when you’re sick!

2 Don’t block your ears with earplugs or cotton

No cotton pieces, normal earplugs, or other objects! Don’t do it. Period.

Solid earplugs prevent you from properly equalizing underwater which in turn can lead to barotraumas and rupturing your eardrum.

The water pressure may also push the plugs further into the ear canal which you probably guessed is not safe either.

For those who still want to keep water out of their ears, some manufacturers have come up with special scuba diving earplugs. These are essentially vented plugs that allow you to equalize through a small vent.

While this might appear tempting to use in order to keep the ears dry while diving, these are not a viable option for everyone.

Woman putting earplug into ear
Earplugs are fine on the surface but may not come with you on a dive.

First off, you can’t be certain that these plugs work the way they are intended. Malfunctions do happen and in this case, the consequences can be extremely uncomfortable.

Depending on where you dive you might be wearing a hood, thick gloves, or other gear that make it difficult to remove the plugs in an emergency.

Moreover, there is no way to ensure the earplugs stay in place when the water pressure rises or when you perform an equalization move.

Secondly, DAN advises against them as there is not enough data on the proper functioning of these devices during diving.

On the other hand, they do work very well for surfing, swimming, and snorkeling. There are also scuba divers who have left positive reviews about them and some doctors prescribe them when ear pain during diving continues.

If you want to give vented earplugs a try, get the right size for your ear and proceed with caution. For surfing or snorkeling only, they do work nicely!

You can get the Doc’s Proplugs on Amazon. Let us know if they worked for you!

During the dive

3 Equalize early and regularly

This seems like an obvious one but make sure to equalize properly during a dive!
Start before you descend and make sure to repeat doing so every 1 or 2 meters or every couple of feet.

Don’t force it and don’t wait until it hurts. Keep in mind that equalizing may be necessary both during your descent, as well as your ascent.

Scuba diver equalizing underwater
Proper equalization technique is a key to better ear care for divers!

The more pressure your eardrum experiences, the more it will feel uncomfortable.

Many divers also describe it as an “itching” feeling after the dive.

In turn, they start sticking their fingers in or keep pressing on the source of their discomfort. This is a sure way to lead to more risk of infections and stress.

Proper equalization during a dive does wonders when it comes to how to prevent ear infections while scuba diving. If you need help with equalizing your ears, ask your instructor!

4 Wear a hood

If you regularly experience infections in your ear canal, try wearing a hood during your next dives. The extra material will decrease the amount of water that gets into your ear and will keep sand and salt particles out of it. It also keeps your ears warmer.

Even if the water temperature is already warm enough, a proper hood is great because it might prevent the need for further ear care after diving completely.

This one looks great even when diving in a t-shirt! 😁

5 Put (olive) oil in your ear

Sounds weird? It is! But it works. Put 2 or 3 small drops of oil into each ear before a dive and it will keep your ears from drying out too much. The oil is also water-repelling which further prevents bacteria from entering.

You can use pure olive oil from the grocery store or medical paraffine oil you get from the pharmacy.

Some divers find it harder to equalize with oil in their ears so try it out and see what works best for you!

Olive Oil
Olive oil is an easy way to keep your ears dry during a dive.

Alternatively, hop on over to Amazon and grab this organic tea tree oil. It comes with a nice and handy dropper that makes it easy to control the amount of oil you put in your ear.

Yes, yes, I can see your faces when I mention essential oils…however, this one is not a scam.

It works very well for smooth ear care for scuba divers and can also be used for non-diving purposes.

6 Use a special Pro Ear mask

If frequent ear infections after diving bother you, you have to try out the Ear Pro diving mask by IST. It is not for everyone and admittedly, it looks a little off, but many divers and instructors swear by it.

The mask features covers on the sides that prevent water from entering and allows equalization through a small additional vent above the mask strap.

The mask fits comfortably and tight enough so that the ear covers don’t bother you while diving. Yes, the design might not be for everyone, however, it works like a charm!

7 Descend feet first

Going down with your feet first is an easy little fix for everyone who regularly experiences problems when equalizing.

It allows you to better control your descent and that will cause less stress for your ears.

Scuba divers equalizing ears while descending
Descending feet first makes it easier to equalize and prevents ear pain while diving.

After the dive

Both salt and chlorinated water can stress your ears and lead to unwanted side effects.

During the dive, they wash off the protective fat layer, soften the skin, and raise the pH value. Sand particles in the water further lead to irritation.

At the same time, salt and chlorine alike dry out the skin and lead to itchiness and tiny scratches in the ear canal through which microbacteria can enter and lead to infections.

Proper post-diving ear care for scuba divers is essential if you want to enjoy your dive trip to the fullest.

Scratches may also be the result of poor attempts at cleaning or drying your ears with cotton sticks (something you should never do!) or small grains of sand.

Another cause of discomfort stems from the water that’s been trapped inside the ear and serves as a breeding ground for all types of bacteria and fungal diseases.

Here are a few tips on how to prevent ear infections while scuba diving after you got back out of the water:

8 Clean your ears with fresh water after every dive

Washing out your ears after every dive should be the first measure to take to prevent infections. Simply tilt your head to the side and pour a little water in each ear.

If your tap water is drinking water use that, however, in some areas and countries, only take bottled water.

Man drinking water on beach
Almost right. 😉

Be careful with those small capped water bottles you get at diving resorts and such. If they are left in the sun for some time they can be very hot and hurt your ears.

9 Keep your ears dry and protected

If sea or lake water remains inside your ear and gets heated up by your body temperature, it becomes a perfect breeding ground for a variety of microorganisms and fungal diseases.

Dry your ears completely after every dive and consider using a neoprene headband when you’re not in the water.

ScubaPro makes this one in different colors, for example.

You can also use little cotton balls or similar. I would recommend against paper towels as inserting them into the ear canal can lead to more scratches.


10 Don’t dry your ears using objects such as cotton sticks

Drying your ears after diving is very important to keep them healthy, however, don’t force it by any means.

Cotton sticks may cause serious damage to the skin in your ear and your eardrum. Instead, use the corner of a soft towel to get most of the water out right away without rubbing it inside your ear.

If you feel there is still a lot of water left, use a paper tissue and carefully touch the inside of your ear to dry it. This should take care of the rest.

Cotton sticks in glass
Don’t use these to clean your ears!

The next two tips will show you even better alternatives.

11 Use a hair dryer

A hairdryer is a great tool for drying your ears and most people already have one anyway. Aim the warm (not hot) stream of air against each ear for about half a minute and they should be dry again.

Be careful not to burn yourself though and use the low power settings.

12 Use scuba diving eardrops at the end of each diving day

There are many different diving drops on the market and they all consist of a mixture of fresh or purified water, ethanol, glycerine, and/or other ingredients such as vinegar.

The water washes out unwanted particles, the alcohol dries and disinfects the skin and the vinegar acts as an anti-inflammatory.

Common ones might look like the following two:

Ehm’sche Solution

Glacial acetic acid5.0g5%
Purified water10.0g10%
2-Propanol (95%)85.0g85%

Branse-Passek and Muth

Glacial acetic acid0.5g1%
Purified water2.5g4%
2-Propanol ad50.0g95%

You can mix them yourself, however, use them with caution.

If you rather want to trust ready-to-use mixtures, check out Trident Ear Drops.

The components of these drops are 95% Isopropyl Alcohol in 5% anhydrous Glycerin.

Diving drops should always be applied with caution. Apply 2-3 drops per ear, wait a few moments and then let them flow out of your ear again. They are great products for ear care for scuba divers, but overusing them is not recommended.

I recommend not using them after every dive and instead after the last dive of the day. This ensures that the ears are clean and dry overnight without stressing the skin too much.

Pure alcohol is not recommended and will irritate your ears more than anything. If you feel worse after using them, of course, switch to a different solution, or don’t apply them at all!

How to treat ear infections

Women laying on side
Ear pain hurts and should be treated immediately.

What to do when all the measure from above didn’t help?

This is by no means medical advice, and please see a doctor! However, here are a few tips from experience that might help you.

Again, you are responsible for your own health and we cannot guarantee that these tips work!

  • Make sure your ears are completely dry
  • Cover your ears from wind and sand
  • Consider anti-inflammatory drops
  • Don’t dive with ear pain
  • Don’t stick your fingers in your ear
  • Don’t mix different drops, oils, and medicine

If you have good dive insurance, they will cover treatments for ear infections after scuba diving. If you don’t have one yet, check out our dive insurance comparison right now!

You can try using ear oil to disinfect your ear canal which also acts anti-inflammatory. This one is organic and comes with a handy dropper, as well.


Ear care for divers is extremely important to help you enjoy scuba diving without pain or infections.

In this article, I discussed different methods of keeping your ears safe and healthy throughout your diving adventures.

Remember, everyone is different and some methods might not work for you the way they do for your buddy.

Leave a comment and discuss what did or did not work for you!

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Always dive with friends and happy bubbles. 😃



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About the author

Hey! I'm Julius, professional scuba instructor, diver, outdoor lover, entrepreneur and CEO and founder of Social Diving. I write about scuba diving (including tech, cave, sidemount, and freediving), travel, and love what I do. If you have any questions, send me a message. :-)

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