Headaches and Scuba Diving

by / Wednesday, 16 May 2012 / Published in Medical Scuba Diving Info

Headaches while scuba divingIt’s been a wonderful day in the Florida Keys.  You awoke to a light breeze coming through your bungalow window, had a late brunch on Duval Street, and wandered the city.  And the diving was spectacular – great visibility, countless fish and an interesting wreck to boot.  But now you’re back on the boat and your head is beginning to throb.  You were hoping to catch the sunset, but you’ll have to see if the medicine you took kicks in before then.

Headaches happen to be a common problem among individuals who participate in scuba diving, and are frequently experienced during and after an excursion.  They can be the symptoms of quite a few different causes and ailments, which range from harmless inconveniences to life threatening problems.  Although some are the result of issues related specifically to diving, others stem from injuries and conditions initially caused by other activities, yet exacerbated by taking part in the pastime.  While almost everyone who dives will suffer from a headache once in a while, you should consult a physician if they begin to occur on a regular basis, are not easily treatable, and/or  happen with other symptoms.

Often times dive headaches are engendered by things that occurred before you ever entered the water.  These pre-existing problems include having a cold or sinus infection, dental issues such as root canals, and neck or upper back problems.  Even fumes from the boat’s exhaust and dehydration may be the culprit.  Some of these causes can easily be remedied and avoided, while others may require the attention of a specialist.  It is recommended, for instance, that you always avoid diving whenever you have a head or chest infection, as the resulting complications could be severe.

As scuba diving places you in a different environment, reliable on various forms of equipment, you may find your headache is caused by the dive alone.  Water pressure may considerably affect the ears and sinuses when descending and ascending, while an improperly positioned air tank, badly-fitted mouthpiece or overly tight mask can lead to pain as well.  Even an action as simple as straining your neck to view things – as opposed to maneuvering your whole body – may result in discomfort.  In more serious situations, headaches may be signs of decompression illness (the “bends”) as well as carbon dioxide toxicity, which is caused by improper breathing, skipping breaths to conserve your air supply, and equipment malfunctions.

Remember, if your headache does not go away easily or you experience other symptoms, do not hesitate to seek medical attention.