Can snorkeling or scuba diving cause a sinus infection?

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Can snorkeling or scuba diving cause a sinus infection?

Yes, you absolutely can get a sinus infection from snorkeling or from scuba diving. A sinus infection by these activities is caused by water filling your sinus cavity(s). The mucous membrane will protect you from bacteria, but if one is to do snorkeling with a cold or other allergies there’s a higher chance of pain (that’s why it’s not recommended for you to go scuba diving or snorkeling with a cold or the flu). 

Sinus infections range from something as small and easy to fix (and address) such as bad breath all up to breathing difficulties that require medical care. Dive deeper into what exactly happens if we breathe water through our noses!


Sinus Infection causes from water-based activities

The main causes of a sinus infection occurring when snorkeling, scuba diving or engaging in a water-based activity are:

Water Pressure

Mucous membranes are incredibly thin and they protect your large nasal passages which you breathe through. This tissue is very sensitive to dust, smoke, pollen or any other kind of irritant that’s floating around in the air.

The mucous membrane will protect you from bacteria for a little while but once it fills with excessive amounts of fluid it becomes irritated, red and painful…

This increased pressure can cause sinusitis (inflammation) over time. Once this inflammation sets in it can be extremely difficult to clear up without medication unless one dives within 24 hours where the body can fight off the infections through increased blood oxygen levels.

Your body adapts to water pressure by increasing your heart rate to produce more red blood cells, thus carrying more oxygenated blood around which in turn clears up sinus issues.

Pre-existing health conditions

Conditions which can cause sinusitis are things such as cystic fibrosis, diabetes and asthma for example. Cystic Fibrosis is a genetic disease that affects the lungs with mucous build-up which traps bacteria leading to infections.

Bacteria in the water

Contact with polluted seawater

(even if it’s not visible to the eye) when scuba diving/snorkeling. This isn’t a cause where you would get sick immediately but over time this build up of pollutants will affect your immune system making it more susceptible for a sinus infection or other sicknesses.


Sinus Infection Symptoms (from scuba or snorkeling causes)

Whilst these can vary from person to person or the progression of an infection, the following symptoms are all quite common when it comes to water-related sinus infection. Keep in mind this list is not exhaustive and you should always seek advice from a medical professional:

– Post nasal drip (sensation that there’s always something in your throat)

– Headaches

– Bad breath (halitosis) due to the bacteria secreting enzymes which break down proteins creating certain acids which stink…

– Mucosal bleeding (may be visible)

– Eye pain

– Nose congestion (with or without)

– Head pain (may be intense/severe depending on location of sinus).

Sinus infection symptoms may include one or more of the following: fever, headache, cough, nasal congestion, postnasal drip.


How to avoid a sinus infection when snorkeling or scuba diving

If you wish to avoid getting sick like this; make sure to thoroughly rinse your gear with freshwater if it gets dipped in saltwater! You may want to seal it in a plastic bag before rinsing in case there was a hole in it and/or you can remove any dust from the parts where water may collect and not drain out. If you get sick, make sure to get treated ASAP (not only for the sinus infection but also for any other symptoms such as fever etc).

Other ways you can avoid a sinus infection and illness in general from the water include:

  • Stay in good health by exercising regularly, drinking lots of water and eating healthy food.
  • Avoid polluted cities.
  • Make sure to always have enough medication with you in case you would get sick while being in the water or on land.
  • If you have asthma, make sure to take your medication at least half an hour before getting to the water (if possible).
  • Get plenty of rest and avoid exposing yourself to large groups such as other people who may be ill (at public pools etc).
  • Use nose clips when snorkeling if it’s hard for your sinuses to drain because there is a lot of pressure from the activity; this helps minimize pain and prevent any excessive build-up.
  • Use earplugs when diving; this helps the body equalize the pressure in your ears.


Closing thoughts on avoiding illness when snorkeling or scuba diving

Stay safe in the water and explore our site for more related guides. If you’ve ever had a sinus infection, you know how miserable it can be. With scuba diving and snorkeling becoming more popular than ever before, many people are finding that they get one of these infections and can be put off. You don’t have to give up your love for this adventurous sport though!

Seek advice from your medical professional if you have any doubts regarding the rate of infections, infection possibility of a given body of water, or even if you’re worried about catching something from the water when regularly scuba diving or snorkeling… it’s best to be safe and ask questions!

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