7 causes of headaches and how to prevent them

Most headaches have a different pattern in each diver who has headaches. They can suddenly appear during a dive while descending, ascending or after a dive while surfacing.

A lot of divers think headaches underwater are caused by a carbon dioxide buildup. But carbon dioxide buildup isn’t very common in recreational scuba diving. The first symptom of carbon dioxide buildup is a blackout most of the times.

There are many more and likely causes for a headache underwater than carbon dioxide buildup.

Causes and prevention

Tight dive mask

Many divers adjust the straps of their mask too hard to prevent leakage during their dive. This causes pressure on some places of the head. The pressure effect even gets worse the longer you dive. The pain almost immediately disappears if the mask is removed after the dive most of the times.

Drinking salt water

Some headaches are caused by inhalation of salt water. These headaches appear after 20 minutes after diving. Other symptoms are body aches and they become even worse if you exercise or are exposed to cold.

Carbon dioxide buildup

Because of air contamination, skip breathing or a tight suit carbon dioxide can be build up. This results in a headache that steadily become worse during the dive while building up carbon dioxide. After surfacing and breathing normal atmospheric air the carbon dioxide decreases you can get a headache too. These headaches are severe and painkillers don’t always works. The amount of carbon dioxide buildup differs from person to person.

Tight suit collars

Fitting the collar too tight around someone’s neck can cause headache. This is due to the pressure on the veins that transport blood from the brain. This can lead to a buildup of carbon dioxide in the brain. If easy breathing is restricted carbon dioxide can also be buildup.


Most headaches of beginning divers have tension headaches with pain over the head and neck. It’s caused by the anxiety that they’re in a hazardous environment underwater. As soon as they gain more experience it mostly disappears. Also, some divers bite too hard on the regulator mouthpiece. This can lead to cramp of muscles in the temples and cause headache.

Medical problems in the neck

Whiplash injuries and other neck traumas can result in headaches during a dive. The pain is at the back of the neck and head most of the times. It’s caused by the different angle of the neck while scuba diving. Try to swim forward with a certain degree angle to the sea bed.

Sun or glare

Looking into the sun can lead to headache. This is caused by the spasm of the forehead muscles. To prevent this problem you should wear dark glasses with polarized lenses.

Headaches remain a problem for divers

The cause of a headache can be difficult to find out. If you still don’t know the reason of your headaches consider asking a physician familiar with diving or a neurologist.