What Is Sinus Barotrauma (Sinus Squeeze)?

Barotrauma of the sinuses goes by several different names. Scuba divers sometimes refer to it as "sinus squeeze," while medical professionals might call it aerosinusitis or barosinusitis. It is most common in divers but can occur under any conditions in which you descend or ascend too quickly for your body to adjust (like in an airplane). You can also get "sinus squeeze" while undergoing hyperbaric oxygen therapy for another medical condition.

Two SCUBA divers deep in the dark ocean
Stijn Dijkstra / EyeEm / Getty Images


The term "sinus squeeze" was likely coined by a diver who had experienced this condition and was describing the facial pain he had. The severity of symptoms depends on the severity of barotrauma, but a shooting pain in the face or a severe headache seems to be pretty universal. Additional symptoms may include a bloody nose, toothache, or ear pain (which may be a precursor to a ruptured eardrum).

While an upper respiratory infection can cause sinus barotrauma, the opposite can also be true.


The sinuses are hollow spaces in the face and skull. Like the middle ear, the sinuses are filled with air. The pressure in these cavities is normally equal to the ambient pressure (pressure of the environment). However, if the ambient pressure suddenly changes, and the body is unable to equalize the pressure in the sinuses, barotrauma will occur. This can actually cause bleeding into the sinuses.

Obstructions in the sinuses make it harder for the body to equalize pressure, and people with a history of sinus infections, current sinus or upper respiratory infections, allergies, nasal polyps, enlarged turbinates, or any other condition involving the nasal passageways and sinuses are at a higher risk for developing barotrauma of the sinuses. In fact, while it is not impossible to get sinus barotrauma without an underlying sinus condition, it is unlikely.


If you experience symptoms of sinus barotrauma, it is important not to panic. If you're diving, your first instinct may be to get to the surface immediately. But remember that by ascending too quickly will be painful and put you at risk for more serious conditions, such as decompression sickness or barotrauma to other parts of the body, like the ears and lungs. The only exception to the "slow ascension" rule is if you are bleeding profusely (so much that your mask is filling up with blood).

Once you're on dry land, if necessary, follow basic first aid to stop nosebleeds. The pain should go away shortly after returning to sea level; regardless, you should see a doctor and soon. If you are bleeding uncontrollably or if severe pain doesn't subside, go to an emergency room.

Barotrauma of the sinuses can usually be treated successfully by an ENT doctor without long-term damage. It is important that all divers receive training on the prevention of all types of barotrauma and decompression sickness. 

Remember: Sinus barotrauma is an indicator of other sinus problems that need to be treated surgically or with medication, such as antibiotics, decongestants, or antihistamines. 


Obviously, it's best to be aware of the potential for barotrauma and avoid it altogether, if possible.

There are several things you can do to prevent sinus barotrauma, including abstaining from diving or flying in an airplane when you have an upper respiratory infection or severe congestion from allergies.

You can also take decongestants—such as Afrin (oxymetazoline) or pseudoephedrine, or antihistamines (if your sinus problems are caused by allergies)—beforehand. But, if overused, decongestant medications can cause rebound congestion.

Treat allergies and underlying sinus conditions before diving or flying, and make sure you descend and ascend slowly using Valsalva maneuvers (swallowing or yawning on an airplane) to equalize pressure.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Vaezeafshar R, Psaltis AJ, Rao VK, Zarabanda D, Patel ZM, Nayak JV. Barosinusitis: Comprehensive review and proposed new classification system. Allergy Rhinol (Providence). 2017;8(3):109–117. doi:10.2500/ar.2017.8.0221

  3. Salahuddin M, James LA, Bass ES. SCUBA medicine: a first-responder's guide to diving injuries. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2011;10(3):134-9. doi:10.1249/JSR.0b013e31821b08ff

By Kristin Hayes, RN
Kristin Hayes, RN, is a registered nurse specializing in ear, nose, and throat disorders for both adults and children.