If you're not a diver it's possible you've never heard the term sinus squeeze; it's an alternate name for barotrauma of the sinuses, (aerosinusitis, or barosinusitis), a condition that occurs while diving or flying. The sinuses are mostly hollow cavities in the skull which are filled with air. The pressure in the sinuses should be equal to the air in the environment (ambient pressure). When the ambient pressure changes too quickly for the body to equalize the pressure in the sinuses, sinus squeeze, a severe headache that often feels like it is in the front of the face or behind the eyes and sometimes bleeding from the nose occurs.
This isn't the whole story though. Millions of Americans suffer from sinusitis caused by chronic infections or allergies, and many are undiagnosed. Many have also misdiagnosed themselves. These conditions can cause obstructions, either by excessive mucous or fluid, or abnormal growths like polyps inside the nose and sinuses. These obstructions make it more difficult for the body to equalize the pressure inside the sinuses to that of the environment. So while it is possible to get sinus squeeze if you have a cold and are severely congested, most people who get sinus squeeze have an underlying sinus condition that needs to be treated by a physician. The first step in preventing sinus squeeze is to treat any underlying problems such as a sinus infection, nasal polyps, enlarged turbinates, or a deviated septum before diving or flying. Additional steps to prevent barotrauma of the sinuses include:
- avoiding airplanes or scuba diving when you have an upper respiratory infection
- using medications like decongestants or antihistamines (if your problems have been diagnosed as allergies) before diving or flying
- ascending and descending slowly
- using valsalva maneuvers to help equalize pressure in the sinuses and inner ears
- having a checkup with an ear, nose, throat (ENT) specialist before learning to scuba dive and periodically afterwords
- do not dive unless you have been properly trained in techniques to prevent barotrauma
For more information about sinus squeeze and related conditions read:
- What is Sinus Barotrauma (Sinus Squeeze)?
- Barotrauma of the Ears
- What is Sinusitis?
- About Nasal Decongestants
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