I recently had a stapedectomy. Can I dive and what are the risks involved?
Ear, nose and Throat (ENT) surgeons trained in diving medicine differ in their opinions regarding the wisdom of diving after a stapedectomy, which is a surgery to treat hearing loss by replacing the stapes bone in the middle ear with a prosthesis.
This controversy extends to diving with any ear condition that increases the risk of permanent injury
All of us who dive place our hearing at risk and barotraumas (a pressure injury) of the middle and/or the inner ear increases the risk of hearing loss.
While some ENT experts absolutely recommend against diving for individuals with existing ear issues, other ENT experts are of the opinion that patients who understand and accept the potential risks may dive.
Limited studies have described small numbers of people diving after stapedectomies.
The results from these samples indicate that the subjects are not at an increased risk of injury when compared to the control groups of divers, provided they can safety equalize their ears and sinuses with the changes on ambient pressure.
With that said, the consequences of failure to equalise can be greater for those who have undergone stapedectomy procedures.
The inability to equalize the middle ear space effectively, or an attempt to do so too forcefully, may dislocate the prosthetic stapes.
Dislocation can be corrected only in surgery and may result in permanent hearing loss.
Diving after a stapedectomy also carries the risk that the desolation of the prosthesis may damage the round or oval window of the cochlea.
Such an injury can permanently affect both hearing and balance.
Again, it is not that the risk of injury is necessarily greater than that faced by other divers, but rather that there are greater consequences in the event of an injury.
Before deciding to pursue or return to diving, it is clearly in your best interest to candidly review your fitness to dive with a doctor and make a brutally honest risk versus benefit analysis based on the information available.