Welcome to Part Eleven of The Beginner’s Guide to Freediving, the best place to start your freediving journey.  If you’re planning to start freediving, this chapter covers equalization for freediving –  why we need to do it, how to do it, and how to avoid equalisation problems.

Introduction To Equalization for Freediving

When I first started freediving I was limited immediately by my inability to equalize the pressure in my ears. I could just about equalize to a depth of a few meters if I hauled myself down feet first, but if I tried to equalize head first then nothing happened. This was incredibly frustrating, compounded by those around me who told me that I would never be able to equalize because there was ‘something wrong’ with my ears. It took almost a year for me to learn how to equalize headfirst and for my body to adapt to being in water and upside down. I always tell students that if I can learn equalization for freediving, then anyone can, and I have never met anyone who cannot learn to equalize for freediving, given enough time and perseverance. Here we will look at how to equalize, the common problems you might encounter, and how you can overcome them.

Equalization for Freediving – What Do We Need To Equalize When We freedive?

Our body contains air spaces and as discussed in the previous article on depth and pressure, when we descend in water, the air spaces inside our body get smaller. If we do not add air into these spaces to compensate – equalizing the pressure within them and bringing them to the same volume we have at the surface – then injury will occur.

The air spaces that need to be equalized when we freedive are our ears, sinuses, mask and lungs. When we talk about equalizing our ears, we are actually referring to our middle ear, located behind your eardrum and connected to the back of your throat via the Eustachian tubes. Our sinuses, meanwhile, are small air cavities in our frontal skull, behind our eyes, nose and cheekbones. They reduce the weight of your skull, humidify the air that we breathe, help prevent infection from the body, insulate the eyes, protect the brain during head trauma and add resonance when we speak or sing.

We need to put air into our sinuses, ears and mask in order to equalize the pressure within them as we descend in order to prevent potentially serious injury.

Beginners Guide to Freediving - equalization for freediving - Graphic of the Human Ear

Graphic of the Human Ear

Equalization for Freediving – Equalizing Our Sinuses When We Freedive

When your sinuses are free from blockage or congestion, they will equalize at the same time as your ears, so we don’t need to think about doing anything specific to equalize them. If there is congestion (such as when you have a cold, for example) however, the air spaces in the sinuses can get blocked, preventing the passage of air. As you descend, the air spaces get smaller and smaller and this can cause pain in your cheeks, eyes and forehead, and occasionally in your teeth and jaw. If you do not equalize, eventually the capillaries in the sinuses burst, releasing blood into them and thus equalizing the pressure. If this happens you will have a nose bleed into your mask.

Many people regularly experience nose bleeds whilst freediving and say that they are not bothered by it and that it does not affect their diving. In my opinion, if there is bleeding from the sinuses then you have injured them and this needs to be prevented from happening.

The first precaution is not to dive when you have a cold or are congested. If you feel that you have blocked sinuses then steam inhalations are a good way to help soften and shift mucous. Put very hot water in a bowl, then lean your face over it and cover your head with a towel. Slowly breathe in the hot water vapor through your nose. Essential oils such as eucalyptus, peppermint, thyme or pine can be added to the water, or prepared blends such as Olbas Oil.

A good preventative measure is sinus washing with a specially prepared bottle or small teapot-shaped object called a neti-pot. You fill the bottle with warm saline solution then plug one nostril and, using gravity, tip your head to the side. The water will run through one nostril, through your sinuses and then out through your other nostril (make sure you do it over a sink). When the pot is empty, refill it and do it again on the other side. Many people use a neti-pot daily to help prevent colds.