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Published: May 31, 2018
Friends, Romans, countrymen - let's talk about ears and skydiving with a cold!
Anyone who's flown in a commercial aircraft knows that the changing air pressure can play at least a little havoc on your ears. If you're the clever type, you probably know that those same pressures will have at least a little effect on the skydiving experience. Plane goes up, parachute goes down, ears take notice, right?
If that's your instinct, your instinct is absolutely correct. Since the little-bitty aircraft we use in skydiving aren't pressurized (and that's a good thing indeed, because there's no way short of a hydraulic jack to open the door of a pressurized plane), our ears feel the subtleties of air pressure in much the same way -- though to a lesser extent -- as we do on, say, a scuba dive. Because the air is thinner higher up, the pressure outside your ears is less than inside. As you go up from thicker air to thinner air, the differential creates a push from the inside to the outside as the two try to equalize. As you come down, that push reverses.
As simple as that is, it's nice to know what rules those conditions set for a safe, comfortable and painless skydive for your hearing-holes. Here are our best how-tos:
Rule Number 1: Don't Go Skydiving With A Cold
Let's get this out of the way right now: In order for these changing pressures to be painless, your ears need to be clear. When you skydive with a head cold or sinus trouble, the blockages prevent the pressure from equalizing.
Skydiving with a cold will result in one of two ugly outcomes: The seriously embarrassing outcome or the seriously painful outcome. If you jump when you're sniffy, you get the embarrassing outcome: the mucus has a tendency to come out all at once in freefall or under canopy, leaving both you and your Tandem Instructor a gooey mess. (Eeeeew!) If you're really stuffy, you might get the painful outcome, too: The backed-up pressures can be enough to blow out an eardrum. (Yeooowch!) Anyway, don't risk it. If you're stuffy, reschedule.
Rule Number 2: Don't criticize it, equalize it.
You'll feel the changing pressure on the way up, sure -- but it's on the way down, when the pressure changes happen much more quickly, that you may feel the need to proactively help things along.
Going quickly down from thin air to thicker air can give you the physiological sense that your ears are "filling up." Depending on how your unique ears are built, it may feel like you have ghostly earplugs in there. Most tandem skydiving students -- if they notice this at all -- recognize this when they're under a freshly-opened parachute.
Don't worry! First of all, it's temporary, and second of all, you can hurry it along. To equalize the pressure, just pinch your nostrils closed, close your mouth and gently breathe out as though you were breathing out through your nose. You'll notice the subtle crinkly sounds of the soft bones of your ears moving around to accommodate the movement of air. If you need a little bit more, just swallow the same time you are gently blowing into your nose. This changes the air pressure inside your ears to match the pressure outside, bringing that comfy equilibrium back.
See? Two rules! That's it! If you follow both of 'em (particularly the one about not skydiving with a cold), your ears will have as good a jump as the rest of you -- and you'll be able to hear us cheering for you as you land. We're lookin' forward to doing just that!
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