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How to Recover from Swimming-Related Headaches

Have you ever felt that throbbing sensation on your head during and/or after swimming laps? In such instances, experienced swimmers would recommend taking your swim caps off to relieve the pain. On the other hand, some may blame dehydration or over-exertion, thereby recommending to remedy the pain by drinking lots of water and taking breaks.

There are multiple triggers that cause headaches when swimming. Some of the most common swimming-related headaches are enumerated below:

External Compression Headache (ECH)

This form of headache is the result of applied external pressure on one’s forehead and scalp. More specifically, it is the result of wearing tight googles and swim caps. The duration of the pain lasts only within an hour after the pressure is released – or in other words, until the gear is removed. Prolonged pressure, however, may worsen the headache into a migraine.

How to avoid ECH:

  1. Invest in the right pair of goggles For competitive swimmers who use the standard racing goggles (those that are snug around the eye socket), you may either limit the time wearing the gear or you may loosen the strap. If, however, loosening the strap isn’t ideal for you, look for goggles with different strap styles. Make sure that you purchase a pair that is leak-free and comfortable for your head. You may also opt to buy goggles that sit just below the eyebrows, covering a larger space around the eye socket (ie. Zoggs Predator Goggles and Speedo Futura BioFUSE Goggles). This type has a larger soft rubber seal that helps reduce pressure around the eyes and forehead.

  2. Remove your swim cap every now and then You may enjoy quick relief by removing the swim cap, and therefore releasing pressure from the head. Otherwise, examine your swim cap to see if it’s already too small for you. If so, it’s time to invest on a new one.


Swimming can trigger a migraine. This form of headache is characterised by recurring throbbing that’s accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light.

How to treat migraines:

Migraines usually last longer than externally-induced headaches. Treating a migraine requires proper bedrest in a dark room, so as to avoid discomfort from light. However, if you are experiencing an extreme migraine (unbearable throbbing and nausea), consult a doctor—they may hand you a prescription.

Sinus Headaches

This form of headache usually occurs after swimming. It happens when viruses and other bacteria enter the nasal cavity, which trigger inflammation. Swimming in chlorinated water is one of the common culprits for nasal lining and sinus membrane irritation. Additionally, diving also increases risk for sinus headaches due to the changes in pressure underwater.

How to treat sinus headaches:

  1. Use a saline or salt-water spray Sinus headaches are relieved by reducing inflammation and swelling of the nasal cavity. Saline and salt-water sprays rinse the nasal passages and flush out irritating pool chemicals such as chlorine.

  2. Use a nose clip Nose clips are helpful for keeping chlorinated water away from entering into the nostrils.

  3. Avoid deep diving Keep yourself safe from shifting water pressure levels to avoid blocked sinuses. If you are a deep dive enthusiast, this advice may not be ideal. If so, you may pack over-the-counter medicine with you when you dive and if possible, limit the number of times you deep dive. Ask your local drugstore which medicine is best for treating sinusitis. If your sinus headache is more painful than usual, speak with your doctor.

Swimmer’s Ear

This is an ear infection that many swimmers experience due to trapped water in the ear. Trapped water locks in bacteria that are then released and exposed to the outer ear canal. Aside from headaches, symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear include itching, redness, swelling, pain, and an uncomfortable feeling of fluid in the ear.

How to treat Swimmer’s Ear:

An ear infection needs to be treated with antibiotic ear drops. Consult with your doctor and ask for a prescription.

How to avoid Swimmer’s Ear:

You may opt to buy specialist swimming earplugs to keep water away from getting trapped into your ear (ie. Speedo Biofuse Aquatic Earplug). Alternatively, you may use a water-resistant coating like the Earol Swim Oil.

Other causes for headache

There are other more factors that can trigger swimming-related headaches like dehydration, improper breathing, and over-exertion.

Avoid dehydration by drinking water both on the-night-before and on-the-day-of swimming laps. Keep a water bottle with you at the pool side as well so you can take sips throughout your training.

Improper breathing causes lack of oxygen in the brain, causing the head to throb in pain. Avoid this by asking an experienced swimmer (whether a coach or a friend) to help correct your breathing technique.

Over-exertion or strenuous swimming would normally last for less than 48 hours. Avoid worsening the pain by staying away from hot weather and high altitudes.

The Noodies Swim School prepares students for competitive swimming!

Our swimming programs are tailor-fit for beginners and advanced students. We help condition children’s athleticism in by first meeting them at their current skill level, and then training them into becoming a disciplined and healthy competitor in the pool. Refer to our packages and rates to kickstart your child’s journey into competitive swimming.

Happy swimming! :)



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