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A mask is one of the most vital pieces of equipment for individuals interested in snorkeling and/or diving (free, scuba, etc.). Amongst the countless mask options available lies one that has become quite controversial due to its perceived safety concerns.
While studies have shown that snorkeling-related injuries and deaths are more closely correlated to pre-existing health issues than equipment, there are some legitimate dangers posed by full-face snorkeling masks you should be aware of.
The predominant dangers of diving with a full-face snorkel mask revolve around its design permitting a higher air volume than most snorkeling masks. The result is an increased risk of carbon dioxide buildup and a potential inability to equalize ear pressure. However, the real culprit of these dangers is arguably misinformation or a lack thereof.
In this article, we will provide a more in-depth explanation of the dangers of diving with a full-face snorkel mask.
As you read, you will also learn how these dangers can be minimized, whether using a full-face snorkel mask is safe for you, and, if not, what are the best alternatives.
What Are The Dangers of Using a Full Face Snorkel Mask?
When it comes to using a full-face snorkel mask, there are two overarching dangers users should be aware of that are unique to this particular mask design.
While there are general risks, such as improper fit, these are shared by nearly all snorkeling mask designs, and, therefore, will not be discussed here.
The significant degree of air volume permitted by a full face snorkel mask increases dangers associated with:
- Ear pressure equalization
- Carbon dioxide buildup
This increases the user’s potential for injury or even death in extreme cases.
Below, we have discussed each of these dangers individually by explaining why they are important, their associated side effects, and how full face masks pose a greater risk than alternative designs for these issues.
Inability to Equalize Ear Pressure
If you intend to use a full-face snorkeling mask for below-surface snorkeling, then you’ll need to be aware of how it can pose a challenge when the time comes to equalize your ear pressure.
First, let’s provide a quick overview of what this means and why it is important in diving and snorkeling.
As you descend deeper when diving or snorkeling, the water’s pressure will incrementally increase, causing your eardrums to bow inwards.
Oftentimes, this feels uncomfortable or painful because the process causes an imbalance of pressure between the outer and middle ear.
Your middle ear is filled with air that is sealed by your eardrum to ensure any water that might enter your outer ear (or the ear canal) does not enter the middle or inner ear.
Ideally, the pressure in the middle ear should be equal to the pressure within the ear canal, and one way to ensure this is with the help of the eustachian tube, also known as the inner ear.
These tubes are connected to the back of your throat and allow you to let the air out of the middle ear to travel down the tube to promote equal pressure.
The sensation of your ears finding balance once again as you dive is the classic ear “pop.”
While your ear can sometimes do this on its own, they usually need a little help, which is why people are taught classic methods to pop their own ears, such as the:
- Valsalva maneuver
- Toynbee maneuver
- Frenzel maneuver
- Lowry technique
- Edmonds technique
Unfortunately, there is something all of these maneuvers and techniques require that is not possible to perform when wearing a full-face snorkel mask, and that is, to pinch your nose shut.
Because of this, the individual is often left diving in discomfort as their ears pressure remains imbalanced.
When done for extended periods and/or at significant pressure, significant ear damage might occur, such as a burst eardrum, which can cause hearing loss.
Promotes Carbon Dioxide Build Up
The more serious danger posed by using a full-face snorkeling mask is its ability to permit carbon dioxide build-up that could lead to carbon dioxide poisoning.
The predominant reason why this is a higher risk with full face masks versus other designs is that they have significantly more air volume, allowing the mask to trap more carbon dioxide which, in turn, poses an increased risk to your health.
The most common side effects of carbon dioxide buildup are:
- Increased difficulty breathing
In more extreme cases, you’ll find your blood pressure and heart rate increasing and could potentially fall unconscious.
The unfortunate reality here is that once unconscious, you will either continue to breathe in the excess amounts of carbon dioxide, causing serious health issues or even death.
Alternatively, if your mask is somehow knocked askew while unconscious or removed in a state of confusion, the user may drown.
How Can You Minimize These Dangers?
While it is important to discuss the risks associated with using full-face snorkeling masks, we are not claiming that these pieces of equipment are predominantly dangerous.
In reality, there are risks associated with using nearly any piece of diving or snorkeling equipment and most can be minimized with education.
Before you, or anyone you know, uses a full-face snorkeling mask, it is highly recommended that you first understand how to properly use a normal snorkeling mask. Educate yourself on how using this equipment affects you physiologically, its associated risks, and how proper use and techniques can reduce these risks.
Once you have the basics down of using a standard snorkeling mask, read the full face snorkeling mask’s user guide and ensure you understand how the equipment works, should fit, etc.
You should then test the mask once it’s on and before entering the water to check its seal and functionality.
If you see fog appear near your eyes upon inhaling or feel air moving here upon exhaling, then the mask is not properly fitted and needs to be adjusted.
Ensuring proper airflow throughout your mask is another crucial measure to reduce carbon dioxide build-up.
It is also beneficial to increase this airflow efficiency and reduce overall air volume by purchasing a full-face snorkel mask that is designed with two separate channels, one for the mouth and another for the nose.
You can also reduce your carbon dioxide emissions by only using this mask in calm or mild waters to ensure you aren’t forced to exert yourself, as this will quickly lead to a CO2 buildup.
The rapid, shallow breathing from exertion accelerates carbon dioxide emissions.
The harder you are working your body while swimming, the more carbon dioxide it is going to produce that will be present, both in the body itself, as well as inside your full-face snorkel mask.
To prevent this refrain from quick, shallow breathing while wearing the mask. Try to have long, slow, controlled breathing to reduce the rate of CO2 emission and draw more fresh air into the mask and push CO2 out.
It is also wise to only use these masks for surface-level snorkeling to eliminate the necessity of equalizing ear pressure and educate yourself on the side effects of carbon dioxide build-up.
This way you can safely exit the water and remove the mask before it has a serious effect on your health.
Full-face snorkeling masks might pose additional challenges and risks that are not present in all snorkeling masks designs, but it would be unjust to say that are undoubtedly less safe.
As long as the users are educated on how to use the mask, what risks it poses, and how to mitigate and recognize these risks, then they are no more dangerous than other snorkeling equipment.
Still, it is always wise to be cautious and snorkel with a companion for maximum safety.