What’s the most frustrating part of arriving at a dive site, preparing all of your equipment, squeezing into your wetsuit, getting on a boat or swimming to the buoy, and having a proper training session? Not even being able to get past 5m because your sinuses will not equalize. For some of us who live near the water, we can just abort the session and try again another day. But for those of us who are not so fortunate and had to travel for our precious training sessions, it feels almost like heartbreak. So what can we do when our sinuses start out sticky or blocked? Here are some options.
Jala Neti Pot
The yoga cleansing technique of Jala Neti is the oldest form of sinus irrigation and is the most effective way to relieve sinus congestion. It works by letting warm salt water or saline solution flow from one nostril to the other, thereby working its way through the frontal and mid-nasal sinuses and rinsing out the dirt and bacteria-filled mucous lining. A more advanced technique will allow you to pass the water through your post-nasal sinuses and out of your mouth. Warm water loosens and dissolves the build-up accumulated in your nasal cavity, and may cause momentary discomfort at the first couple of tries. Check out how to use a neti pothere, and make sure to use boiled or sterile water for your solution, not water that comes from a tap!
Breathing in Steam
When feeling congested, a hot shower usually helps clear our stuffy noses. Why? The steam softens and helps shift the mucous, which reduces inflammation and relieves sinus congestion. So when you are feeling stuffed up and unable to equalize your sinuses, try breathing in steam. Instead of taking a hot shower each time, boil some water and wait for it to cool a bit, just enough so that it has vapor, but does not burn your skin. Put your face above the kettle or cup of water with a towel draped over your head to trap the water vapor. Make sure to keep your eyes closed, and breathe deeply and slowly through your nose for at least 10 minutes.
A good idea is to add a few drops of essential oils into the mix, such as eucalyptus, peppermint, oregano, or tea tree oil, to add in a few other benefits, as well as to relieve sinus congestion.
Nasal Saline Spray
The idea of trying a neti pot may be daunting, even though it really is the best way to help clear your sinuses. If so, you can also try nasal saline spray. Make sure to read the bottle and verify that it is natural saline spray and that it is free of any medications. A couple of squirts up each nostril before you dive may irrigate your sinuses enough to provide relief and allow you to equalize them efficiently. One downside is that nasal sprays may not always reach all the way into the sinuses.
If you can find mangosteen juice at a health foods store near you, it is another great option for clearing your congestion. Mangosteen, a fruit that is native to Indonesia, has both anti-allergy and anti-inflammatory properties, which can provide an all-natural way to clear your sinuses. Just make sure to check exactly how much mangosteen is in the juice, as many mangosteen juices are often mixed with other fruits, and may not be as effective as one with a higher concentration of mangosteen. It is recommended to drink the night before and the day of your dive.
Root out other contributing factors
There are a lot of reasons that you could be congested, even if you feel great out of the water. Dairy, refined sugar, and gluten can all be contributing factors to nasal congestion. Try to avoid these foods for a while and see if it improves your congestion issues. Allergies, dry air, sleeping with the air-conditioning on, and tobacco smoke may also be factors that affect your sinuses, so consider what was going on the day before you became congested and see if you can find a simple reason as to why congestion is occurring.
What to avoid
There are many who advocate using medication to treat your sinus congestion, but honestly, it’s not a good idea. Traditional decongestants speed up your heart rate, and since it is not certain how fast drugs metabolize at depth, you could end up with the medication wearing off in the middle of a dive and experiencing the mind-numbing pain of a reverse block upon ascent. Decongestion medications also tend to dry out the mucous membranes in the sinuses and using them every day can lead to even bigger issues.
Snorting sea water is also inadvisable as it contains bacteria and microbes that could cause infection. It is advised to try these above options instead, or better yet, to consult a physician for chronic sinus issues, as you could be suffering from a more serious underlying issue. And most importantly, do not force yourself to dive if you are feeling unhealthy!
Kristina, an AIDA, PADI, and Molchanovs W2 Freediving Instructor, discovered her love for the sea as a PADI Divemaster in Dahab, Egypt, where she shared the Blue Hole with freedivers and developed a serious passion for the single-breath sport. Nowadays, when she isn’t nose-deep in a novel on the beach, Kristina likes to train depth, and often pretends to be a mermaid when her buddy isn't looking.