The tranquil underwater world may put your mind at ease, but for many divers, the hours that follow can be one big headache. Don’t let throbbing pain put a damper on your next dive. Here’s a look at the most common culprits and how to head them off at the pass.
Loosen up: Your hood is tight. Your wetsuit is tight. Your mask is tight. You’ve got your jaw in a death grip around your regulator. Does your head hurt yet? Of course it does. If your equipment fit 10 years ago and you’re, um, a decade heavier, consider upgrading your equipment. Pay attention during the dive to how you hold the reg in your mouth: Are you clenching it? Bite down gently on your mouthpiece. And a well-fitted mask doesn’t need to be cinched within an inch of its life. The more restricted and constricted you are, the more likely you are to emerge with a headache.
Check your tank position. If the back of your head keeps hitting your first stage, is it any surprise that you're headachy following a dive? Adjust the position of the cylinder as needed.
Breathe, breathe, breathe. Carbon dioxide buildup is one of the most common causes of post-dive headaches. CO2 can only build up when you don’t get enough oxygen. So it’s common in people who take small sips off their regulator or “skip breathe” by pausing after every inhalation and holding their air before exhaling. Avoid CO2 build-up headaches by taking full, even breaths off your regulator.
Drink up. Dehydration will make you headachy in a hurry. Between the hot sun and the long days on and under the water, it can be easy to let your fluid intake slide. Have a fresh, full bottle of H2O with you at all times. And avoid alcohol. Too much alcohol leads to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, leaving you headachy, fuzzy-headed, queasy and fatigued the next day. Drink Up explores the negative aspects of dehydration in more detail.
Be fashion wise. Both exposure to cold water and overdressing in hot weather can lead to headaches. Wear temperature-appropriate clothing and gear.
Stay in shape. Research has shown that regular exercise reduces a whole host of ailments, including headaches. Fitness can start with something as easy as walking. The Healthy Diver column has published a number of articles on exercises designed to improve your fitness as a diver. Check the Related Articles below.
Clear those sinuses. Sinus barotrauma or “squeeze” is another common cause of post dive head pain. These skull crushers are especially common in divers who have problems equalizing. When you shift depths without properly equalizing, your sinuses may take a squeeze causing a shot of pain across your forehead and eyes. This one requires medical help. Once the condition is resolved, you'll need to figure out a way to equalize successfully. Be sure to descend and ascend very slowly, equalizing every step of the way. Read Ear Clearing 101 for more tips.
Treat it once you get it. Dive enough and you’re bound to get a boomer once in a while. Treat it with fresh air, water and your pain-reliever of choice. Though most dive-related headaches aren't serious, experts caution that they can be a symptom of decompression sickness. So if your skull pounding is accompanied by joint pain, nausea, dizziness, or any other potential DCS symptoms, seek medical help ASAP.
Selene Yeager is health and fitness expert and writes regularly about training, fitness, nutrition and health.