“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” – Henry James
Summer is definitely upon us. Longer days and warm temperatures draw many of us poolside to enjoy some fun in the sun. While swimming is great exercise and a fun way to cool off, it can also be bad news for your sinuses. It is not uncommon to experience congestion that can last for days following a swim. In a study comparing swimmers and non-swimmers, the frequency of sinusitis and rhinitis was higher in the swimmers. Bacteria, viruses, or fungi in pool water can enter the nasal passages, which can lead to inflammation and cause infections. Chlorine, however, is an even more common cause for post-swim sinus problems. The chlorine in pools can cause inflammation in the lining of the sinuses – sinusitis – as well as inflammation in the lining of the nasal passages – rhinitis. This can last as long as one to two weeks, which is definitely not something you want to have to deal with.
Pressure changes in the sinus cavities can block the nasal passages and cause discomfort. When diving and swimming beneath the water, the pressure in your sinuses has to equilibrate with the pressure under the water. When chlorine and chemicals in the pool irritate the nose, mucus becomes thick and the sinuses become plugged. This prevents your sinuses from adjusting to pressure changes and the build-up of pressure can cause sinus headaches. Plugged sinus cavities also cause sinus infections because the blockage prevents the clearance of viruses and bacteria that have entered the nasal cavities. In addition, trapped liquid can develop into an infection. This blockage is why swimming often worsens the symptoms of a cold or sinus infection.
There are ways to enjoy swimming without the pain. Nose clips are the easiest form of prevention. These are available at any stores that carry products for swimmers. There are two basic types, one with an elastic rubber band that goes around your neck, and another that sits on the nose itself, similar to the type worn by competitive swimmers. Using a saline rinse on a regular basis can also help in keeping your sinuses clear. If sinus issues have kept you on the sidelines during the summer, give our office a call. We can help with preventative measures and treatments that will have you feeling better and jumping into the deep end.