This information was created in response to questions submitted by tandem students that had problems breathing or clearing their ears in freefall.
We don’t often hear about tandem students that have experienced a problem breathing while in freefall or drogue-fall. But if you were having problems breathing, it was probably more related to an anxiety attack, as well as the normal fear/apprehension syndrome that many new jumpers may experience. Some people, when put in seemingly life-threatening situations, tend to hold their breath. They just lock up! Unfortunately, they don’t realize they’re holding their breath until they’re “out of breath.” For them, the experience of jumping from an aircraft was literally “breathtaking!”
The secret is to breathe freely while in the aircraft, and to continue to breathe during the entire jump, just like you would while here on terra firma. And yes, you can breathe in freefall, regardless of the speed, but you may have to make a conscious effort to do so. Sometimes just moving your head will change how the relative wind strikes you, allowing you to breathe easier. If you’ve been holding your breath prior to exit, the sensation you experience at the time of exiting the aircraft may be overwhelming, never mind “breathtaking!” I recommend to all my students to energize themselves prior to exit by taking a couple of deep breaths while in the doorway.
You can breathe through both your mouth and nose. The secret is to just “breathe.” There’s nothing complicated about it. Chances are, when you make your next jump, you’ll have no problem at all now that you’re aware of the situation.
Ear Clearing Problems:
Some jumpers have experienced problems clearing their ears. If you have a head cold, suffer from allergies, or have (or had) a recent sinus infection, you need to be very careful about skydiving or scuba diving while suffering from these aliments. A drastic change in pressure could damage the eardrum and other components of the inner ear. Some jumpers take an antihistamine prior to jumping, which can help alleviate some of the pressure and blockage. A word of caution though: Some antihistamines can alter your physiological balance, which can cause you to perform below acceptable standards. Many tests have been conducted by the airlines and their related training divisions and have shown that professional pilots do not perform up to par when taking a doctor-prescribed antihistamine such as Claritin.
If you find yourself in a position where clearing the ears is a necessity, this is what we recommend to our students. Hold your nose closed with the thumb and index finger, and attempt to blow gently through the nose. This is the exact same way you would clear your ears if you were descending during a scuba dive. You’ll want to do this as often as needed. Never blow too hard, for serious damage could also happen. If pressure is building, this is one of the few alternatives you have to minimize the problem. If you’re too timid for the above course of action, you might try clearing your ears by simply moving your jaw from left to right (repetitively), or by swallowing. If this problem persists, consult your physician.