Ever been hanging around some divers and seen someone with bulging red eyes like something out of a zombie flick? Or perhaps you’ve been that person yourself at some point. Those blood red, puffy eyes are a result of a mask squeeze, otherwise known as a face squeeze, and it’s a fairly common occurrence amongst scuba and freedivers.
Here are the most common questions from you:
What is a mask squeeze?
How do you prevent mask squeeze?
What is an ear squeeze?
What causes ear squeeze?
What is the cause of ear squeeze?
If you’re a surface snorkeller – have no fear! It’s impossible for you to experience mask squeeze as it’s all got to do with water pressure changes, which you wouldn’t experience while hanging out on the surface. If you’re a freediver or scuba diver, you should already know all about equalising pressure while going below the surface, but it’s easy to forget the basics when you’re focusing on more important issues (or really pretty coral).
In this article, we’ll give you a brief touch-up, reminding you what a mask squeeze is, how it happens, and how you can best avoid it from happening. Unless it’s around Halloween time – we reckon a mask squeeze could take your costume from meh to monstrous.
What’s a mask squeeze?
You’ll know if you’re experiencing a mask squeeze. You’ll feel your mask grow increasingly tighter as you go deeper into your dive, and it’ll become almost like a suction cup, pulling on your eyes and the soft tissues that surround them. This diver reckons it feels a lot like having a vacuum cleaner sucking up your face – yikes! So that’s a mask squeeze for ya.
How does a mask squeeze happen?
Mask squeeze occurs as a result of not properly equalising the pressure of your mask while diving. You might be too busy focusing on other procedures, or equalising the pressure between your ears, that you completely forgot about the pressure inside your own mask.
Mask squeeze can also happen as a result of having a mask that fits too tightly, or a diver going out of their way to make sure water doesn’t leak inside the mask. It’s OK to have a bit of water leak inside your mask, and if you do try to seal your mask tighter around your face then that can contribute to mask squeeze.
A properly fitting snorkel mask is imperative to preventing mask squeeze that occurs as a result of a tightly fitting mask. You want your snorkel mask to be able to seal against your face via a simple exhalation of the nose, without the strap at all. You can practice this by holding the mask up tight against your face – without the strap on – and exhaling deeply. If the mask seals, it’s a good fit, if you need the strap to make it seal, it’s no bueno.
How to deal with mask squeeze
It’s no good knowing the signs of mask squeeze if you don’t know how to deal with it. That’ll just bring on those puffy bruised eyes and popped blood vessels, and although the effects are largely superficial, they’re not pretty. If you find yourself experiencing mask squeeze during a dive, equalise the pressure in your mask by exhaling through your nose. This will pump a small amount of air into your mask that’ll balance the pressure and ease that gross suction feeling.
I experienced mask squeeze, now what?
If you have any of the following signs and symptoms after a dive, you’ve likely experienced mask squeeze:
- Facial bruising and redness,
- Pressure on the face,
- Red eyes or face, and
- Change in vision (rare but can happen).
You shouldn’t dive again until these symptoms have healed completely.
How to prevent mask squeeze
The best thing to do is to prevent mask squeeze from happening in the first place, and keeping an eye on equalising the pressure in your mask as you descend further underwater. Constant breathing and exhalation through the nose tends to do the trick. That said, here are a few more tips to prevent mask squeeze from happening:
- Keep your nasal passage open when diving,
- Make sure your mask sits properly on your face and is not too tight,
- Don’t push the mask into your face before diving to make it seal better, and
- Buy a mask that automatically expels water, so when you do experience leakage, it’s easily drained out.
So there you have it! It’s always important to be aware of the possible dangers of diving, even for superficial injuries like mask squeeze. Prevention is the key to enjoyable diving, so stay safe out there, and don’t forget to exhale through your nose!
What is an Ear Squeeze?
If you’ve ever experienced any pain in your ears while diving, then you’ve likely experienced an ear squeeze. An ear squeeze occurs as you dive deeper underwater and there’s an increase in pressure in your outside environment. That causes your middle ear to ‘squeeze’, causing a bit of pain. Consider that pain your initial warning, because if you choose to ignore it and continue diving then you may end up with a burst ear drum and worse.
In this article we’ll look at what exactly is happening when you experience an ear squeeze, why it happens, and what you can do to prevent it. We’ll also talk a bit about what can happen if you ignore an ear squeeze and dive further… just to make sure you’re aware of the consequences!
Why you get ear squeeze
As wonderful as diving and snorkelling is, we’ve got to admit that the human body just isn’t designed to be deep underwater. We can’t breathe there for a start, and we need fancy tanks and masks to help us hang out there for longer periods. We also need wetsuits cos it’s cold as hell down there. And one thing a lot of people forget about is the fact that our ears aren’t designed to experience rapid pressure changes either.
The science of it
Inside your middle ear is heaps of dead air space that connects all the way down to your throat. As you descend underwater, you need to make sure that you increase the pressure inside that air space to match the pressure surrounding you. If you don’t, then you’ll experience ear squeeze or other ear-related injuries.
These dead air spaces are connected to these things called Eustachian tubes, which run to the back of your throat and connect those spaces to the external world. To equalise your ears safely while diving, you want to open these Eustachian tubes to let in higher pressure air from your throat. Swallowing is one way to open your Eustachian tubes. The key here is to let air rush in from your throat and into your ears, whatever way you need to do it.
A lot of us already equalise the pressure in our ears when flying. The concept is similar here, except instead of soaring into the sky you’re diving deep underwater. Find a method that works best for you, practice it, and don’t forget it while you’re diving.
Problems with equalising
Sometimes there are other issues which prevent us from equalising properly and lead to ear squeeze. Even if you’re trying your hardest to balance the pressure, the body might just say ‘no’. These issues are likely to stem from a problem with your aforementioned Eustachian tubes, or from other reasons like:
- Cold and flu,
- Head colds,
- Deviated septum,
- Broken nose, and
- Irritation or inflammation of mucous membranes.
It’s advised not to go diving deep if you’ve recently had a cold, flu, or headache, are experiencing allergies, or smoked within the last few hours. Same goes for if you have any hay fever, sinusitis, earache, or any other inflammation or irritation of your mucous membranes. If your problems are chronic or more serious, then you should talk to an ENT surgeon to see if they can help ease your issues so you can keep doing those awesome dives.
What happens if you ignore an ear squeeze
Like we said before, an ear squeeze is your body’s first and final warning that worse things are on the horizon. If you ignore it, or don’t pay much attention, then you will experience barotrauma. This is not only painful as hell, but it can be damaging and will also mean you can’t dive until it’s gone…
Here’s a step-by-step on what happens as you dive, and what will happen if you ignore that ear squeeze:
- 1 foot (0.445 psi pressure difference) – Water pressure outside your eardrums is now slightly higher than the pressure inside your ear canal. You can feel pressure in your ears and they flex inwards.
- 4 feet (1.78 psi pressure difference) – You begin to feel the first signs of ear squeeze. The nerve endings in your eardrums are stretched and they bulge out into your middle ears.
- 6 feet (2.67 psi pressure difference) – The pressure has locked your Eustachian tubes and you can no longer open them to equalise. Your eardrum continues to stretch, tearing its tissues, and expanding or bursting your blood vessels.
Results: You’ll have inflammation for a week, and bruising that can last up to 3 weeks.
- 8 feet (3.56 psi pressure difference) – If you’re not descending too fast, you’ll have middle ear barotrauma by now. Blood and mucus is sucked out of your tissues and fills your middle ear, equalising the pressure. Your pain subsides. Results: Your ears won’t look pretty and may still have some issues for another week or so while fluid is reabsorbed in your body.
- 10 feet (4.45 psi pressure difference) – If you’re going down fast, then your eardrums are likely to burst. Water will flood into your middle ear, you may experience dizziness and vertigo. If you try to equalise by blowing too long and hard against pinched nostrils then you may experience inner barotrauma, which will result in temporary or sometimes permanent hearing loss.
Yikes, how’s that for grim? Diving is a load of fun and excitement, but it should always be done carefully and with good understanding of safety basics. If you’re going to be going for a dive, try to equalise your ears before going underwater first. If you feel like your membranes might be blocked and not allowing enough air in, then enjoy a shallow dive for that day.
How Do You Prevent a Mask Squeeze?
Would you ever hold a vacuum cleaner hose up to your face and let it suction your eyeballs and nose? No? Of course not, that’d be gross and horrible. Well if you wouldn’t hold a vacuum cleaner hose up to your face then you sure don’t want to experience mask squeeze.
In case you hadn’t heard, mask squeeze – or face squeeze – happens when you fail to equalise properly during a dive, turning your snorkel mask into a great little suction cup. It hurts, you can have red bulging eyes afterwards, you might look like a zombie and make little children on the street scream and cry… it’s not a good thing.
If you wanna end your dive looking as pretty as you did before you started your dive, you should probably learn how to prevent mask squeeze from happening. Surface snorkellers need not worry as it’s impossible to experience mask squeeze on the water surface, but for those diving a bit deeper, we’ll go into what mask squeeze is and how to best stop it from happening.
Why does mask squeeze happen?
Before we get into the prevention stuff, it’s good to know why mask squeeze happens so you can avoid the conditions that cause it to arise. Like we mentioned earlier, mask squeeze happens when you don’t properly equalise the pressure of your mask while diving. Just like your ears, there is a lot of dead air space floating inside your mask, and that also needs to be equalised while diving.
Mask squeeze can also happen if your mask is strapped on too tightly or you’re trying too hard to stop water from coming into the mask, deepening the seal. A little bit of water in your mask is OK, and if you have a good mask then that should easily drain back out.
How do I equalise the pressure in my mask?
Good question, there’s no point knowing all this stuff if you can’t do anything about it. If you find yourself experiencing mask squeeze during a dive, then you can easily equalise the pressure by exhaling through your nose. Yep, that’s all it takes. A small amount of air will be pumped in from your nose, balancing the pressure in your mask. Too easy!
How to prevent mask squeeze
- Properly fitting snorkel
The most important factor in preventing mask squeeze is having a snorkel mask that fits properly on your face. You want to be able to hold your snorkel mask up against your face and seal it with an exhalation of your nose (without even needing the strap).
If you cannot seal it that way then your mask is too big, and if it’s too tight then that’s even more likely to cause mask squeeze. Take the time to find a properly fitting mask and you’ll be thankful later.
- Equalising & proper breathing
Masks aside, there are a number of other things to look out for while diving that can help prevent mask squeeze. Being sure to equalise the pressure in your mask is another necessary preventative measure. You can easily do that by constantly inhaling and exhaling through your nose.
- Other tips that can help
While the other two are imperative to prevent mask squeeze, the following tips are also useful in its prevention:
- Keeping your nasal passages open while diving (i.e. don’t block your nose),
- Not pushing your mask into your face to seal it in before diving, and
- Buying a mask that automatically expels water when it enters.
What happens if I had mask squeeze?
If you’ve already experienced mask squeeze, then you’re likely to have the following symptoms:
- Facial bruising and redness,
- Pressure against the face,
- Red eyes or face, and
- Change in vision (rare but happens).
None of these things are fun, but the worst part is that you can’t dive again until those symptoms have subsided. How’s that for awful? Keep yourself safe out there snorkellers, and don’t forget, life is about balance, so always equalise!