Mask squeeze is one of the most common diving injuries that are common among new divers. The good news is that mask squeeze is not life-threatening despite sounding and looking intimidating – your eyes will be red-shot, reminiscent of the bloodthirsty eyes of vampires you see in the movies. There will be discomfort for sure but it’s not life-threatening.
Prevention, they say, is better than cure and this article aims to help you understand mask squeeze and hopefully prevent it. Mask squeeze can happen during scuba diving or freediving, and you should know how to prevent it if you participate in any of these activities.
What Is Mask Squeeze?
Mask squeeze, also referred to as face squeeze, is a condition that occurs during diving when a diver fails to equalize the airspace created between the mask and the face to the surrounding water pressure during descent.
It’s common knowledge that pressure increases the deeper you go underwater and the deeper you go, the more pressure the water exerts on your body. The result of this is that there is more pressure on the air in your scuba mask which makes the air painful against your face.
The air in your mask must then be equalized by exhaling through the nose and failure to do this can lead to injury to blood vessels, the eyes, and tissue covered by the mask such as the forehead and the nose region.
When equalizing, you are ‘adding’ air volume to the airspace in your face mask so that it can approximate the ambient pressure outside of your body, hence the need to exhale through the nose. And you’ll need to equalize approximately every two to three feet (1 m).
What Are The Signs Of Mask Squeeze?
The most obvious signs of mask squeeze include:
- Red eyes i.e. redness of the white part of the eye.
- Nose bleeding.
- Feeling pressure on the face.
- Bruising and redness of the face.
- Vision changes (rare and occurs in complicated cases. Require immediate medical attention).
Why And When Does Mask Squeeze Happen?
By now, you know that mask squeeze occurs when a diver fails to equalize the airspace in the scuba mask to the surrounding water pressure as he/she descends.
This condition is common in new divers as they often forget to equalize their masks. They’ve learned several skills like buoyancy control and equalization of the eyes during the lessons and are focused on implementing all these skills. And in the course of doing this, they forget to equalize their mask.
Experienced divers can also have mask squeeze and this happens when such divers get carried away by an activity and forget to equalize. But the condition is not as common in experienced divers as it is in new divers.
Divers can also have mask squeeze when they wear ill-fitting masks or the wrong masks. Scuba masks should fit snugly and create a perfect seal with the face. Masks that are big or strapped too tightly can increase the pressure on the face during descent. Also, wearing the wrong masks, say wearing snorkeling masks for scuba diving, can cause mask squeeze.
Mask squeeze can also occur when a diver descends too fast as it’s difficult to consistently exhale on rapid descent.
How To Avoid Mask Squeeze?
The good thing about mask squeeze is that it is avoidable. So, you don’t have to go around with scary bloodshot eyes or suffer discomfort on your face. Below are ways to avoid mask squeeze:
Equalize as often as possible on your way down
This is an obvious way to avoid mask squeeze. As I said earlier, new divers and sometimes experienced divers forget to equalize the airspace in the mask through controlled exhalation through the nose as they descend.
You’ll need to equalize approximately every two to three feet (1 m).
Use scuba diving masks
There are scuba masks and snorkeling masks. Scuba masks are designed to withstand the high pressures underwater and are usually made of tempered glass. Snorkeling masks, on the other hand, aren’t as strong as scuba masks as you are closer to the water surface in snorkeling.
You can’t use snorkeling masks for scuba diving as this will cause mask squeeze. Make sure any mask you intend to use for scuba diving meets the requirements of a scuba mask.
Go for small-volume masks
The volume of your scuba mask is the amount of airspace that’s inside the mask. Your mask can either be high or low volume. Masks with high volume offer a feeling of openness but are difficult to clear because of the large airspace available.
It’s advisable you go for small volume masks as the smaller airspace means you’ll have to equalize fewer times as you descend compared to a high volume mask.
Choose the right mask size
Choose a scuba mask that snugly fits you while creating a perfect seal with your face. Wearing a very tight scuba mask can cause mask squeeze since the increasing pressure underwater can cause discomfort on your face or eyes. A snug fit mask will be comfortable and remain in place as you descend.
Opt for silicone masks
Go for scuba masks that have skirts made of silicone as the material is comfortable and will not bruise your face as the increasing water pressure press on the mask as you descend.
Remember I said rapid descent can cause mask squeeze as you’ll be unable to equalize properly or consistently? You can prevent this by descending slowly thereby giving yourself enough time to equalize.
How To Treat Mask Squeeze?
In most cases, the treatment for mask squeeze is time. Your body will get rid of the signs and how fast your body does this usually depends on the severity. Sometimes, the redness can clear within a few hours of leaving the water. Other times, it may take longer, up to 14 days, for the redness to clear.
The redness of the eye and face is caused by the accumulation of blood and your body will metabolize the blood over time. The redness will change to greenish-yellow, and then completely clear. And you may be a bit embarrassed about having bloodshot eyes for a week or two.
Note that you should stay away from scuba diving if you have mask squeeze until the signs have completely cleared. Diving when you have mask squeeze will only worsen the signs and lead to more complications.
While mask squeeze usually doesn’t require treatment, you should see a doctor if you are having problems with your vision, chronic pain, or prolonged eye redness (exceeding 14 days). This may be signs of serious damage to the eyes and you need to see a doctor for immediate medical intervention.