Diving with Dry Ears (and Loving It!!!)
By David Pilosoff, Publisher Yam Magazine
For over 30 years I have been diving, photographing and reporting about the world's oceans. During this time I have encountered many innovations in diving equipment and technology so I was not too surprised when one of my colleagues, Howard Rosenstein, pioneer of Red Sea diving tourism contacted me concerning a new invention that he is involved with. In Howard's words, "Pilo, Israeli and American engineers, doctors and dive professionals are developing what may be a major breakthrough in solving one of the most common and problematic occurrences afflicting divers, problems relating to the divers ears due to pressure, pollution and cold.
Howard has been on the diving scene as long as I have, having run successful resort and live aboard diving operations in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean for over 30 years and he is keenly aware of the most common problems facing divers in the field so when he made his interesting claim, I decided to take a serious look at what they were developing. I must admit that my interest in diver's ear problems are not only professional but personal as well, that is, in my career as an underwater photographer and cinematographer, I have on many occasions had to abort a days work due to recurring ear problems and the inability to equalize pressure in order to dive.
I decided to go down to Eilat, Israel's Red Sea resort and hub of its diving industry to personally field test the first prototypes of what will become the ProEar 2000 diving mask. The ProEar 2000 is a mask similar to the standard high quality low volume silicone masks so popular in the diving market. There is one important difference and that is a pair of hydrodynamic silicone and plastic cups which completely envelope the outer ear forming a watertight area which leaves the divers outer ear, ear canal and ear drum completely dry and protected from the adverse effects of water pressure, cold and pollutants. There are 2 thin silicone tubes which extend from the mask skirt to the cups which allow for easy and comfortable equalization by simply expelling air from the nose and having it travel through the tubes into the air cup thus equalizing the ambient pressures between the outer ear and middle ears. Divers who generally have a very difficult time equalizing due to extremely narrow Eustachian tubes may still have to "pinch their noses" while equalizing but the process should be considerably easier.
This basic and profound difference was the brainstorm of an Israeli diving physician who quickly gained support from the Chief Scientists office of the Israeli Ministry of Commerce and its technological incubator program. A company, SR Services was formed and patent applications were filed and issued in record time. Once a company framework was realized a frenetic period of design, manufacture and field testing of prototypes began and lasted over 2 years. Trials were run with the help of Israel's leading dive instructors, dive masters and diving physicians. It did not take long to realize that the concept worked and that the main challenge to commercial success would be in the final packaging and design of the product and of course viable and professional marketing and distribution program. Toward these ends, SR Services turned to Howard to lead its marketing and product development program and hence his call to me.
I must relate that my first dives with the ProEar mask was a little strange. Using a pair of prototype ear cups retrofitted to my old mask I went for several test dives in Eilat, Israel's gateway to the Red Sea.
After properly fitting the mask, I descended several meters where normally I would begin feeling pressure to my ears and have to begin equalizing, strangely enough, this did not happen and it was only after about 5 meters did I discern the slightest pressure at which point I followed Howard's instructions and exhaled through my nose sending air through the narrow air tubes to the ear cup. I immediately felt relief from the pressure and I could continue my descent. Some of the divers with us did have to equalize with the traditional "nose pinch" method, but they too felt it was much easier then with a conventional mask.
During the descent I was also very aware of improved hearing. This takes a little getting used to as the ear cup amplifies sound and allows you to determine its direction. After a few dives I became used to this and it became quite normal. Although the Red Sea is warm in the summer, it can be cold in the spring when we ran the tests, while running the tests, we did some exercises by taking off the masks and putting them on again. Upon doing this you can immediately feel the cold water rushing into your ears, quite a shock. This exercise proved that the mask protects against cold (something "cold water" divers will appreciate) as well as illustrating that the cups and mask can be completely cleared of water in the event of leakage.
Diving with the ProEar was very comfortable, easy on the ears and added a greater dimension to sound and direction. I quickly became used to it and look forward to using the masks in the future.
Published in Israel's diving magazine Yam, January 1999
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