I've done this Valsalva Maneuver many times particularly while flying. It's best to be very gentle while doing it, i.e., not blowing forcefully.
But one time I did this while descending after a long overseas flight, and it caused a serious problem for me. I was already in great pain from pressure buildup inside the ear before I started trying to do it. None of the swallowing or jaw-movement tricks that often help (and should always be tried first) gave any relief. It probably didn't help that I'd been up in the Alps at elevations ranging from 8,000 - 14,000 feet for a week before coming down to Zurich and then flying home. Anyway, I don't know what I did wrong, but the already-bad pain in one ear increased greatly when I pinched my nose and blew gently, and I had a strong sensation of the airplane spinning out of control for about 30 seconds even though it was flying A-OK. Good thing I wasn't the pilot at the time! It took several days to feel better. Clearly I'd caused a serious problem for my middle ear doing this.
After that disquieting experience, I started taking pediatric nasal decongestant spray along with me on the plane. People advised spraying just before take-off to prevent pressure build-up, and mostly, this worked very well. Now I'm on high blood pressure medicine, and all those sprays are forbidden to me, because they contain epinephrine derivatives that temporarily raise blood pressure. Also, decongestant spray users should know that many doctors say using those sprays for more than a day or two consecutively will cause serious and very unpleasant rebound-congestive symptoms. I now think most people should not use those sprays, and I no longer do.
But I'm very careful now before trying a Valsalva Maneuver. The combined sensations of dizzy spinning and increased pain were not something I ever want to repeat.
Last edited by hamjor; 09-11-2010 at 09:55 AM.
I'm a scuba diver and this is standard practice when scuba diving. When you submerge, you have to equalize your ears every couple of meters to prevent the ear drum from collapsing. When you surface, the air that you previously forced into your middle ear bubbles back out. As long as you are careful, you won't hurt your ears doing this. Being able to do this is a great help if you fly a lot, as it reduces the possibility of barotrauma from blocked Eustachian tubes.
As mentioned, called the Valsalva Maneuver and its not harmful as long as you dont try to blow too hard. You basically pushing aid through your eustachian tube (ET) and balancing the pressure in the middle ear cavity and outside. Blowing too hard can rupture the drum among other things but so long as its gentle no worries.
For the record, swallowing/chewing often leads to the same result as a Valsalva Maneuver but is helpful in the reverse situation. It too opens the ET, but where the Valsalva forces air up the ET (helpful when outside pressure is great and internal pressure is less) swallowing can solve positive pressure problems that the Valsalva would only add too. This is most helpful when flying.
Last edited by Drez; 02-03-2011 at 03:06 PM. Reason: added detail
The analogy to flying is exactly the same. When the aircraft is ascending, it is very rare for people to have a problem, for the same reason that scuba divers rarely experience reverse squeeze. However, it is quite common when the aircraft is descending, particularly on a longer flight because the middle ear equalizes on its own to the reduced pressure. Most airliners are pressurized to 7500 ft which is noticably less than 1 atm (i.e., sea level).
Being able to equalize is a great help if you are unlucky enough to experience this problem on descent. As long as you do it gently, there is little risk of damaging your ear. The likelihood of damage from NOT being able to equalize after a long flight is greater than doing nothing. Before I started diving, one of my ears was blocked during a long flight and the eardrum was completely collapsed after a descent. It was very painful and I had to go into an ENT. He taught me to equalize and I was very surprised at how hard I had to blow to equalize my ear. I never blow that hard when diving.
The Valsalva Maneuver is helpful while you are in an airplane. I try doing it at times. But I make sure that I don't hurt my ears. For me, casusing my self to burp also helps.
I do this 50 times a day, ok I may be exaggerating, but I do it A LOT. I think it's my otosclerosis though. One of the tests they do for it is they put this things n your ears that blows air in them, or something like that, and measures how well your ears adjust to the pressure change. if you have otosclerosis, they'll have a hard time. I don't even have to go up a hill, my ears are constantly off and I have to pop my ears. I do this gently (if air comes out your eye you're doing it waaay to hard) and til i get them popped everything sounds like I'm inside a bubble.
For me it's eustachian tube dysfunction. That's what causes the negative pressures in that pressure test in my situation.
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