Many student skydivers have concerns about the pressure changes that can occur during a skydive, and the effects on their ears and sinuses. Our experience is that the small percentage of jumpers that do observe this condition experience only minor and temporary sensations.
Informing you about these sensations should help alleviate any concerns that you may have. Since this is going to be your first jump and you’ll be jumping closer to the ocean than any other skydiving center in California, we want to help you focus on the moment and the incredible Monterey Bay ocean views.
With more than 25 years of doing the World’s Highest Tandem Skydives, the Skydive Monterey Bay staff are arguably the most experienced in high altitude skydives. Based on this extensive experience, it is our observation that only about 10-15% of jumpers report minor and/or temporary, ear or sinus sensations from their jump. Our goal is to pass along our observations and tips to alleviate concerns, decrease the probability of occurrence, share techniques to resolve symptoms, and note conditions in which you are more likely to experience ear sensations.
Effects on Ears: Flying Commercially vs Skydiving
Due to the rapid change in altitude during skydiving, a small percentage of first-time skydivers or new jumpers may experience ear pressure or muffled hearing momentarily. Any such sensation(s) is usually just a minor inconvenience and temporary, typically subsiding before you’ve landed, or within a few minutes after landing.
A similar effect from flying in commercial aircraft is often referred to as “airplane ears”. But there are some key differences between flying commercially and skydiving regarding your ears. Commercial airplanes climb and fly extremely fast. Their cabins are also pressurized.
While Skydive Monterey Bay does fly the fastest skydiving airplane in the world it’s not quite as fast as commercial jets, nor is the cabin pressurized (so that we can open the door in-flight to jump). The ascent on your skydive will be slightly slower than a Delta flight for example, but your descent during an 18,000 foot tandem jump will happen at a much faster rate.
Skydive ear-related sensations might be slightly different than during commercial air travel, so we’ll coin this phenomenon as “Skydive Ears”.
Probability of Experiencing Skydive Ears
Most people will not experience any noticeable Skydive Ears symptoms. Based on our anecdotal evidence, we estimate about 10-15% of jumpers experience minor Skydive Ears sensations.
Notwithstanding a medical condition that could predispose someone to experience Skydive Ears, typically even those that feel ear or sinus sensations on their first jump can get accustomed to the rapid changes of altitude. Our instructors, for example, jump multiple times every day without any symptoms.
For jumpers that do experience symptoms, most will only be momentary sensations. In all our collective experiences, we’re not aware of a case where anyone had ongoing or permanent issues from Skydive Ears.
Individuals Predisposed to Skydive Ears Should Reschedule Their Jump
Some people may be predisposed to experience skydive ears sensations if they have a history of inner ear issues, or if at the time of their jump, are experiencing an illness that is causing congestion. It is the jumper’s requirement to notify our staff and instructors of any such medical information prior to jumping.
If you have experienced blocked or stuffy ears, pressure in the ears, muffled or muted hearing while flying commercially on major airline carriers, while driving in the mountains or high elevations, or generally have ear issues you might be prone to experience some of the symptoms associated with Skydive Ears.
Those experiencing cold, flu, or congestion-like symptoms, or those that have inner ear conditions or infections should not skydive that day. In extreme and very rare cases, skydiving while experiencing these conditions could cause a ruptured eardrum. If you are experiencing any of these conditions within 48 hours prior to your reservation, please call us so that we may reschedule your jump to an alternative date (in general, please do not come to the skydiving center if you are sick or feeling any malaise). Safety is the ultimate priority. It’s best to err on the safe side and skydive another day.
Those likely to experience minor symptoms should advise us upon checking in on the day of the jump and advise their instructor. There are some easy techniques we can demonstrate to help reduce or alleviate the symptoms. It is your duty and requirement to disclose this to us on our waiver of liability and in-person.
Techniques to Resolve Skydive Ears Symptoms
There are a couple of simple techniques you can perform if you experience these sensations during or after your skydive. As priorly noted, if you think you may experience these symptoms, please advise your instructor so that we can review the techniques below to ensure you are performing them properly.
Yawning and/or Swallowing Repeatedly
Alternate between big yawns and swallowing. These movements utilize the muscles that activate the eustachian tubes. For most people, these movements eliminate or reduce the sensations rapidly. If not, continue to repeat several times.
With your mouth closed, pinch your nose while gently blowing or pushing air through your nose. Please note this is a “gentle blowing”; you should not be blowing air so hard that it exits your pinched nose. Several repetitions of this technique over time may be required.
When to Use Techniques to Clear Your Ears
You might notice pressure starting to build in your ears or sinuses during the ascent over Monterey Bay and Santa Cruz. If so, you can perform either of these techniques on the climb to jump altitude or just prior to exit. Even during freefall, it’s quite simple to perform these techniques so don’t allow those sensations to distract you from the spectacular ocean views. Repeat during the parachute descent if necessary.
Reasons Skydive Ears Occur
We’re skydivers, not medical professionals, so all we can provide is the 30,000-foot (or in our case 18,000 foot) view of why and how Skydive Ears occur. If you want the detailed, medical version of the physiology of this condition there are some great airplane ears resources available.
These symptoms are caused because pressure on the middle ear and the outer ear (i.e., outside air pressure) are out of balance. The Eustachian Tube regulates air pressure, but if it is not able to regulate fast enough, you may experience blocked or plugged ear pressure symptoms during descent. Thus, you’re more likely to experience Skydive Ears symptoms during freefall because the changes of altitudes are happening a lot faster than the climb to jump altitude in the airplane.
Although it’s rarely mentioned, stress and anxiety can be a contributing factor to the blocked Skydive Ears sensations as well. Elevated heart rate, an increase in blood pressure, or anxiousness can change the levels of blood and fluid to the inner ear which can cause them to swell, thereby causing or further contributing to Skydive Ears sensations. Your instructor can assist with relaxation and breathing techniques to help manage nervousness.
Before Your Skydive
If you have concerns about Skydive Ears’ sensations, please remember that only a small percentage of first-time skydivers or new jumpers may experience ear pressure or muffled hearing. And even so, these sensations are usually minor, momentary, and typically subside before you’ve landed back on the ground. There are also techniques to resolve the sensations. Ultimately, if you are not congested and/or sick, these concerns should not prevent you from experiencing the liberating feeling of the world’s highest first skydive over iconic Monterey Bay.