Swimmer’s Sinusitis

Posted: September 6, 2011 in Injuries and Owies, Swim
Tags: , ,

Lately, I’ve had this on-going battle after with my sinuses and I’ve just been chalking it up to the changing of the seasons, or the gravitational pull of the moon, or planetary alignment, or whatever it is that makes your nose drip like a diuretic gerbil.  But now I’ve discovered that I may, in fact, be suffering from an acute case of Swimmers Sinusitis brought on by my spending insane amounts of time in chlorinated water while doing my laps.  Just greeeeeeat! 

I need another reason to worry like I need another hole in my head.  And speaking of ‘holes in my head‘, what the hell are ‘sinuses’ anyway?

Well, as it happens, human kind has four paired hollow air-filled spaces in the facial zone of the skull called sinus cavities or paranasal sinuses. These sinuses function only to humidify, moisten and filter the air that enters through the nose for respiratory purposes.  These air filled cavities are also said to give resonance to the voice as well as lightening the weight of the skull which, in my case, isn’t really any great strain at all.  Although, who couldn’t stand to sound a little more like Barry White?

Now this is all well and good, of course, but what the hell is Sinusitis then?  I mean, will I have to have anything amputated, or anything drastic like that? 

Basically, sinusitis is any harm done to these sinus cavities due to viral, bacterial or fungal substances that will either engorge or inflame the sinus membrane.  Oh, and often chemicals can be a major contributor to sinusitis as well, such as chlorine.  Likewise, when 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.

So when all this excess mucus collects in these sinuses due to bacteria, virus infection, chemicals, fungus, pressure, or whatever, the sinus linings become swollen causing the following delicious symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Nasal discharge
  • Nasal congestion
  • Headaches
  • Bad breath
  • Coughing
  • Tiredness
  • Repetitive sneezing

Apart from the bad breathe (which I can’t really vouch for as I live alone and have the social life of a Benedictine monk) and the headaches, I’ve experienced just about all these symptoms during the past two weeks alone.  Thankfully, I haven’t experienced much pain or discomfort yet, but I am habitually snorting and sneezing like a banshee with hay fever and I could certainly do without the bucket loads of snot every hour or so.  So what am I supposed to do now?  I just can’t stop swimming, nor am I about to start wearing nose plugs.  I mean, really?  Nose plugs?  I’d have to start wearing one of those flowery swim caps and maybe a 1930’s style bathing suit.  Not exactly the ideal ensemble for your next Masters Swim class, is it?

One recommended treatment for swimmer’s sinusitis is to drink plenty of water to keep the mucus thin and allow the sinusitis to drain properly (but what will the girls at yoga class think?).  Some people also find that using a nasal spray after swimming will also relive some of the symptoms.  However, I already hydrate like a sea lion and I don’t want to turn into Lewis from ‘Revenge of the Nerds’ either.

So another recommended remedy to stave off the infection and help facilitate proper drainage, is to inhale the steam when showering afterwards, or perhaps sit in the steam room for a spell to help thin the mucus secretions, thus promoting proper drainage of thick, blocked mucus.  It may not be overly pretty for the other steamers in the Membership Plus change room but, hey, a triathlete has to do what a triathlete has to do.

  1. YVR says:

    I have exactly the same problem. Lakes and oceans don’t bother me, but swimming pools cause all sorts of sinus issues. I take allegra-d before I swim and it helps immensely. Of course, then I have to deal with the side effects of the drugs, but they are way less of an incovenience than the uncontrollable sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes that I get from when I swim. I tried a nose clip with little success and a neti pot, which didn’t really help much at all. Love swimming – can’t stand the way my body reacts to chlorine!

    PS Love the blog!

  2. carla says:

    as one plagued by sinus issues, i highly recommend the neti pot. it is a little salt water miracle for keeping your sinuses healthy and clear. :o)

  3. Chuck says:

    DO NOT USE DRISTAN TYPE SPRAYS!!! They are very addictive… really. Ask your doctor or pharmacist.
    One thing that is kind of gross, but people swear by, is a salt-water nasal wash. See “Nasal irrigation” (lovely name) in wikipedia. Again, ask your doctor or pharmacist.

  4. Robin says:

    Hey Terry,

    You might try a few things: I’d recommend trying just a plain antihistamine first +/- an extra shower post-swim to make sure all the chemicals get washes off at you get out from your swim. It’s totally possible that you have a mild allergy to chlorine. If that doesn’t work, I’d recommend a one-two combo of sudafed and a saline sinus rinse (same concept at the netipot but not quite so strange looking). You can get the sinus rinse at the drug store in the aisle.

    Hope it helps!

  5. Right on! A triathlete, a super mom, a rocket scientist, a health care worker and a brain doctor! How fortunate am I to have such amazing friends. I’m going to experiment with all these suggestions, thanks kindly everyone. 🙂

  6. Stacey says:

    Did you ever find a solution to this? I’m suffering from the same thing. I’ve been taking Flonase and Singular to hopefully help with symptoms. (found out about these on a master swim board). Also plan to use a Sinus Irrigator (Don’t use a netti pot with tap water fyi). I’d love to hear any feedback you have. Thanks!!

    • Thanks for your interest. The Neti Pot has helped enormously. I definitely recommend using either mineral water or, if you’re cheap like me, just boil normal tap water first and let it cool before using. Do a Neti pot “cleanse” approximately 2-3 times a day until the symptoms begin to subside. Good luck!

      • Stacey says:

        So you’ve ONLY been using a Neti Pot? How long do your symptoms typically last? I seem to get hit REALLY bad by these for 3-4 days after I swim. Like so bad, it’s like I’m back in mid March mid allergy season hating life. 😦

  7. Yes, I only use a Neti pot. Symptoms should begin to dissipate after 2-3 days with regular use or, at least they have for me..

  8. Christopher M Laboy says:

    I like to swim 61/2 days a week for about 3/4 of a mile (25laps). Well todays swim was cut short due to the overwhelming sensation to sneeze. This would mark the second time in three weeks that once I step oit of the pool the sneezing won’t stop.
    The steam room was a big help the first time, unfortunately someone forget to read the memo saying turn the dam steam room on.
    Well this article was a big help, you saved me a copay payment for the same 15when minute exam.

  9. Stacey says:

    Follow up comment: Hey, I wanted to follow up that I’ve been using this routine and it’s really helped!

    I got a subscription for Flonaise Nasal Spray as well as Singular tablets which I’ve been using religiously. I really think the Flonaise is a huge help. I take a quick shower right before getting into the pool and a full shower immediately after. I read online that a shower before prevents you from absorbing as much of the water since your cells are already hydrated. Who knows if this is true, but it sounds nice. I’ve also purchased Ocean Complete Nasal Irrigation http://bit.ly/NrYn53 (not the spray, more like a neti pot) and I use that in the shower right after swimming. My reaction to the chlorine has completely cleared up, and I can swim again.

    I hope everyone is as lucky as me, and my fingers are crossed that this continues to work for me!

  10. Angela says:

    I’m a competitive swimmer and i swim twice a day and this is my issue the fatigue has been getting to me especially the headache’s

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