Decongestants - Diving with a Head Cold
There are some situations that prevent divers from equalizing successfully and one of the most common is congestion or a head cold.
Congestion, due to colds or allergies, can block the air spaces which can make equalization difficult or impossible.
There are also some medical conditions that may interfere with the normal process of equalizing during the descent such as flat Eustachian tubes, upper respiratory tract infections and a deviated septum.
If you cannot equalize your ears without causing pain and discomfort there may be a medical reason for it and it would be wise to seek professional advice from a Doctor who is knowledgeable in diving related conditions.
However, if you're suffering from a head cold and wondering if you can use decongestants to help you equalize, we have some reasons why it may be a bad idea.
Dangers of Using Decongestants and Diving
- Decongestants help to clear out your airways temporarily which may make it easier to equalize, but the medicinal effect of decongestants tends to wear off during the dive which is likely to cause a reverse block. A reverse block when ascending is the opposite of a squeeze going down and usually results in severe pain and possible ear injury.
- If you feel the need to take decongestants before diving then the indications are that you are suffering from a cold or similar sickness. Diving when you're not feeling well is not recommended because the body will be weak and more susceptible to the physiological effects of decompression illness.
- Taking decongestants implies that you have congestion and a head cold. If this is so, you may also have some chest congestion which increases the risks of a fatal lung-expansion injury because expanding air inside the lungs cannot escape effectively.
- Divers with head colds who take decongestants to help them equalize often have impaired reflexes and dizziness which is an obvious contra-indication for diving.
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