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Can scuba diving damage your hearing?

Although extremely rare, ear injuries are one of the most common forms of injury sustained by scuba divers. To help reduce the risk of ear-related injuries when diving, it’s important scuba divers undergo a diving audiogram to evaluate and assess risk factors that could increase their susceptibility to hearing problems. This will help reduce the probability of diving-related injuries to the ear.

Importance of hearing when diving

Whilst important to general ear/auditory health, the ability to hear is also important for your overall safety and awareness when diving. Hearing loss or injuries can lead to difficulties with surface communications, which can in turn put divers at an increased risk of injury. For example, if divers cannot hear warnings regarding boat traffic or oncoming danger, they would be at greater risk in the water.

Diving-related causes of ear injury

Although uncommon, complete or partial hearing loss can occur when diving for several reasons. Diving-related causes of hearing loss or injury can include:

Barotrauma – Barotrauma literally means injury from ear pressure, and this usually occurs when the pressure in the middle ear does not equal the pressure of the external environment as the diver begins to descend during a dive. This excessive pressure can cause fluid or blood to leak into the middle ear, resulting in injury. Inner ear barotrauma can also occur due to pressure differences between the middle and inner ear, although this is a rarer form of barotrauma.

Swimmer’s ear – Otherwise known as otitis externa, swimmer’s ear is when an infection causes inflammation of the external ear. As the name implies, this problem is often associated with individuals who frequently partake in water sports. This is because the moisture created by immersion in water creates a favourable environment for the growth of bacteria in the ear, resulting in infection. At The Art of Hearing clinics, we provide water protector earmoulds designed specifically for individuals who regularly undertake water-based activities to reduce the chance of ear infection.

When is diving not recommended?

In certain cases, your audiologist may advise against diving. This occurs when the risk factors of ear injury are deemed too high. Scuba diving is commonly not recommended in the following instances:

  • Existing ear injury – If an existing ear injury (from a dive or otherwise) has already caused permanent hearing loss or impairment is one ear, your audiologist may advice against a return to diving. This is because a further dive-related injury could lead to hearing impairment or loss in the remaining, functional ear.
  • Cochlear implant surgery – Diving is often not recommended for patients who have undergone cochlear-implant surgery due to the risk of damage to the surgical repair. If you are considering a return to diving after cochlear implant surgery, make sure you get advice from a qualified health professional or audiologist before proceeding.

Assessing your fitness to dive

Prior to obtaining or renewing a scuba diving license, divers are required to undergo a baseline hearing check and ear pressure test to assess the efficiency of the middle ear in equalising pressure. If you are looking to explore the beautiful waters of WA or Australia, the qualified audiologists at The Art of Hearing Perth can perform the required hearing tests to assess your fitness to dive and evaluate your risk of hearing loss.

Contact our Perth audiologists today to organise your diving audiogram.

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