Scuba Diving and Headaches: Understanding the Causes, Prevention, and Treatment of Underwater Headaches

Scuba diving is a popular recreational activity that involves exploring the underwater world. However, like any other activity, it comes with its own set of risks and challenges. One such challenge is the occurrence of headaches during or after a dive. While headaches are a common occurrence in everyday life, they can be particularly alarming and dangerous when they happen underwater. In this article, we will discuss the causes, prevention, and treatment of headaches that can occur while scuba diving.

Types of Underwater Headaches

Headaches that occur during scuba diving can have various symptoms, causes, and patterns. Some divers experience headaches only during a dive, while others may experience them during the ascent or after the dive. The severity and duration of the headache can also vary.

One type of underwater headache is a tension headache, which is caused by anxiety and stress. This type of headache is common among beginner divers who are still adjusting to the underwater environment. Tension headaches typically cause pain and pressure across the forehead and temples.

Another type of underwater headache is caused by carbon dioxide (CO2) buildup. CO2 buildup occurs when the diver's breathing rate increases or when there is a problem with the scuba gear, such as a leaky valve. The first symptom of CO2 buildup is often a blackout, followed by a headache. This type of headache can be severe and persistent and may require medical attention.

Inhaling salt water is another common cause of underwater headaches. Saltwater inhalation can lead to headaches that start 20 minutes after diving and can become worse with exercise or exposure to cold temperatures. These headaches are typically accompanied by body aches.

A tight-fitting dive mask or suit can also cause headaches by putting pressure on certain areas of the head. This type of headache typically goes away after removing the mask or suit.

Headaches caused by medical problems in the neck, such as whiplash injuries or neck traumas, can also occur during a dive. These headaches are typically located at the back of the neck and head.

Finally, looking into the sun or glare can lead to headaches caused by spasms of the forehead muscles. Wearing dark glasses with polarized lenses can prevent this type of headache.

Prevention of Underwater Headaches

Prevention is the best approach when it comes to avoiding underwater headaches. The following tips can help prevent headaches from occurring:

Choose the Right Gear: Make sure your dive mask and suit fit correctly and are not too tight. Ensure that the scuba gear is well-maintained and functioning correctly.
Stay Hydrated: Dehydration can lead to headaches, so make sure you are drinking enough water before, during, and after your dive.
Monitor Your Breathing: Pay attention to your breathing rate and depth. Avoid holding your breath or breathing too fast, as this can cause CO2 buildup and lead to a headache.
Practice Relaxation Techniques: Learn and practice relaxation techniques to manage anxiety and stress while diving. This can help prevent tension headaches.
Get a Check-Up: If you have a history of headaches or any medical conditions that may increase your risk of getting headaches while diving, consult with a physician familiar with diving before your dive.
Treatment of Underwater Headaches

If you experience a headache while diving, it's important to address it immediately. Here are some ways to manage headaches while diving:

  1. Stop Diving: If you experience a headache during a dive, stop diving and return to the surface immediately.
  2. Take a Break: If you experience a headache during the ascent or after a dive, take a break before diving again.
  3. Drink Water: Dehydration can worsen headaches, so drink additional water.