How to Avoid Headaches While Swimming

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Have you ever suffered from headaches after swimming laps in the pool? It is a problem a lot of swimmers encounter, and it is a very frustrating one.

After all, swimming is meant to be refreshing and invigorating. But your energy and enthusiasm for the sport will soon disappear if you keep getting out of the water with a pounding head.

Swimmers' headaches can be brought on by a number of factors, ranging from the type of kit you're wearing (goggles and swim caps in particular) to a lack of oxygen or dehydration.

However, no swimmer should have to endure a crashing head when they're enjoying a dip.

It takes all the fun out of it and, since you're already in the water and have paid your entry fee, you're either going to have to leave early and cut your losses or continue swimming with a banging head.

Sound familiar? Well, the good news is that it doesn't have to be this way. There are a number of simple and easy changes you can make to your swim routine to tackle the problem of swimming headaches.

This article will help you understand why you're getting headaches after swimming, what type of headaches they are, and what you can do to stamp them out.

Why do I get headaches after swimming? Is it my goggles or swim cap?

The most common headache that swimmers suffer from is known as an External Compression Headache (or ECH for short).

Do you ever tighten your goggles just a little bit and realise too late that you've managed to trigger an almighty head pain? Well, you could be suffering from an external compression headache.

This type of headache is caused by pressure being applied to your scalp and forehead. For swimmers, it is almost always a result of swim caps or swimming goggles.

These headaches tend to come on fairly quickly once the compression is applied on the cutaneous nerves in your scalp and forehead, so it's likely you'll be suffering from it before you've even exited the water.

However the pain usually eases within one hour after the pressure is relieved, and the goggles or swim cap has been taken off. We have some tips on goggles and swim cap comfort further below.

Can earplugs cause headaches?

Earplugs can also bring on an external compression headache by exerting pressure to the inner ear and jaw.

Using standard earplugs for swimming isn't a good idea. Instead, try using specialist swimming earplugs which have been made using a soft silicone structure that adapts to the shape of the ear.

earol swim spray

We have a full range of earplugs for swimmers available to buy now. The Speedo Biofuse Aquatic Earplug is one of the most popular in our range. Alternatively, check out our blog post which goes into more detail about ear plugs and ear protection.

If you really can't get on with wearing earplugs, you could try using Earol Swim Oil. This mist spray can be applied to your ears before swimming, and it creates a natural water-resistant coating.

With this or any other ear drop product, we'd always advise checking with your doctor if you're in any doubt, and particularly if you have a history of ear conditions.

Can Swimmer's Ear cause headaches?

swim-eze ear drops

Yes, the irritations and discomfort from swimmer's ear can trigger a headache in some cases.

Swimmer's ear is caused by trapped water in the ear, which allows bacteria to multiply inside the ear canal. It is an unpleasant condition with symptoms including itching, redness and swelling.

Children are most susceptible to swimmer's ear because they have narrower ear canals, but adults are also known to suffer from it.

If you've suffered headaches brought on by this, try using specialist swimming ear drops such as Swim-Eze Ear Drops. These drops work extremely quickly, evaporating the trapped water and eliminating the painful symptoms.

Can you get a headache from chlorine?

Yes. Chlorine can irritate the nasal lining and sinus membrane in your nose, which can bring on what's known as a sinus headache.

Sinus headaches can also be caused by pressure changes in the water, which can result in your sinuses becoming plugged.
If you suffer from this type of headache, there are a couple of measures you can take.

Firstly, consider buying a swimming nose clip. These are comfortable and easy to wear, and they will seal your nostrils so the chlorinated water does not get up there.

We stock a wide range of swimming nose clips which have flexible frames and soft silicone pads for maximum comfort. After a while, you won't even realise you're wearing it.

If you do have some sinus discomfort after swimming, you can also try a salt water spray or saline treatment to rinse out your nasal passages.

What else can cause a swimmer's headache?

energy drinks for swimmers

Dehydration is another simple but common cause of swimming headaches. 

Early morning swimmers are particularly susceptible to this if they haven't hydrated enough the previous night, or that morning. Remember to take a swimming water bottle with you. You can leave it at poolside, and take swigs of water between laps or drills if needed.

A lack of oxygen can be another cause. Not breathing regularly, or holding your breath for too long while swimming, can bring on a headache.

Spend some time watching our swimming stroke technique videos and reading these articles. We cover the correct breathing techniques for all four main swim strokes.

Which swim goggles can help cure my swimming headache?

speedo backstroke

As mentioned above, swimming goggles are the most common causes of headaches among swimmers.

Wearing goggles that are too tight will trigger a headache in most people, but the levels of severity can vary wildly from person to person.

Some people can be affected quite terribly by these headaches whereas others may only notice a slight uncomfortable feeling. This is why some swimmers can wear their goggles extremely tight and others suffer when they try to do the same.

It all depends on skull anatomy. Some people have a tiny opening in their skull at the inner side of the eye socket just above the eye, known as a foramen. Others have a notch in this area rather than a small opening, which can leave the nerve more exposed and more susceptible to irritation from tight headwear.

There are a range of other factors that can contribute to this type of headache. Athletes with a history of migraines are believed to be more at risk of ECH.

For some people, sticking to goggles that sit above the brow of the forehead, rather than low-profile racing style goggles that sit snug in the eye socket, has proven to be a good way of alleviating the symptoms.

If you're looking for this type of swim goggles, we'd recommend taking a look at the Zoggs Predator Goggles or the Speedo Futura BioFUSE Goggles. They all have larger soft rubber seals to reduce pressure around the eyes and forehead, with a double strap to keep the goggles securely in place.

Of course, if you're a competitive swimmer then you may feel that wearing a pair of racing goggles is key to your performance.

In this case, if you really have to wear small-gasket low-profile goggles for your racing, then we'd advise trying to restrict the time that you're wearing them to a minimum.

Try out some different goggles and strap styles until you find something that is leak-free and comfortable for your head. There are hundreds of subtly different swimming goggles out there to try so it's just a case of finding the style that you prefer, and then finding the perfect pair of goggles for your skull shape.

Click here to browse our full range of swimming goggles from all the top brands.

We'd also advise checking out this excellent swimming goggles video guide from Zoggs. It will give you some great ideas and tips of what to look out for when looking for the perfect fit.


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