THIS TEST IS A WEE BIT DIFFERENT from most. It’s not about a piece of shiny hardware, but it is about something vitally important to divers. It’s also a long-term test, which it really needed to be to mean anything.
Let me explain. I dived for years without any ear problems and without doing anything with my ears post-dive except perhaps shaking my head a bit. Then I did a south Red Sea liveaboard in 2003, and halfway through the week started with an external infection in one ear that grew progressively more painful.
It didn’t affect my ability to clear, so no missed dives, and it sorted itself out after a day or two of not diving, so I didn’t worry unduly. For the next few years, I did a dozen Red Sea liveaboard trips a year as well as diving regularly in the UK with no problems.
Then, five or six years ago, I had another external ear infection, and from then on every second or third diving day left me with pain in one ear or the other, and sometimes both.
It’s always been really uncomfortable, but resolved reasonably quickly and otherwise didn’t seem to matter very much.
It never affected clearing, never affected my hearing, and apart from the discomfort wasn’t any sort of problem.
After the third or fourth episode, I naturally went to see my GP. She diagnosed otitis externa, which is the posh name for external ear infection, and sent me to the practice nurse to get my ears syringed.
That was interesting, and nothing like I remember from when I was a kid, but of no help at all, so she then referred me to the ear clinic at the local hospital. There I was told that I have narrow external ear canals but otherwise I’m good, and they explained that the problem was probably caused by dirty water not draining properly from my ears.
Wash out your ears with clean water after diving, they said, and all will be well.
Since then I’ve tried rinsing my ears with bottled water, with cooled boiled water, saltwater, and water with a bit of vinegar.
I smelt like a chippy, but still had painful ears.
I even tried some stuff I’d bought to clean the ears of the Labradors, reasoning that if it was good enough for them, it was good enough for me – their pedigree is better than mine. But it made no difference.