14 February 2005

Causes, Preventions and Treatments for Dive Headaches

Diving headaches have spoiled many a scuba diver?s vacation or dive trip. There are several different causes associated with headaches and diving. It can be as simple as your mask strap being overly tight or as complicated as a symptom of DCS. Here are some common causes, preventions and treatments for diving headaches.

Sinus Headache
A sinus headache is caused by a sinus squeeze during ascents and descents. The symptoms are pain in the forehead, pain in the face or pain in the cheekbone area. A diving headache caused by a sinus squeeze is due to the failure to equalize pressure. Other causes include inflammation of the sinuses or nasal cavity due to allergies or a cold. Remedies include slowing your ascents and descents or using decongestants. The best medicine of all is to not dive when you are sick.

Tension Headache
Symptoms of a tension headache are pain in the head and pain in the back of the neck. Tension headaches are caused by muscle strain due to anxiety and muscular rigidity. Clenching your jaw during the dive can also cause a tension headache. To prevent the development of muscle strain, and consequently a tension headache, you must learn to relax in the water. Eventually you will stop getting this type of headache if you dive within your abilities, gain experience and become comfortable in the water.

Migraine Headache
Symptoms of migraine headaches include severe pain, visual changes, weakness or numbness of an arm and nausea. These symptoms will prevent a migraine sufferer from scuba diving because of the risk of an injury or an accident. Also, many of the medications used to treat migraines contain drugs which will increase the risk of nitrogen narcosis. Anyone who suffers from migraine headaches and wishes to scuba dive must consult a physician, preferably one who has knowledge of scuba diving medicine.

Carbon Dioxide Toxicity
A dull throbbing head pain after diving is usually a symptom of a headache caused by carbon dioxide toxicity. This type of headache is common to divers and is caused by a build up of carbon dioxide in the body. This increase in waste gas is usually due to hypoventilation (too little air intake). Hypoventilation usually happens because a scuba diver doesn?t take large enough breaths from his or her air tank or doesn?t breathe often enough. Simply put, not breathing enough to get rid of the carbon dioxide created in the body will lead to a build up and cause a headache. The best treatment for this type of headache is to take slow, deep breaths to reduce the build up. Carbon dioxide headaches don?t respond well to pain relievers.

DCS Headache
Headaches can also be a sign of decompression sickness (DCS). DCS is caused by the formation of bubbles as dissolved nitrogen comes out of the tissues on ascent. DCS can lead to permanent physical impairment or death. Seek immediate medical attention if a diver complains of a headache and has other signs of DCS: joint pain, swelling, skin rash, itching, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, and extreme exhaustion. A scuba diver is at risk of DCS when he or she does not decompress after long or deep dives, before surfacing, or when he or she ascends too quickly or makes a panic ascent.

Things you can do to help prevent headaches and enjoy your dive are: loosen your mask strap to avoid excess pressure, relax during the dive, take slow deep breaths, avoid caffeine and tobacco, perform a safety stop before surfacing, practice safe diving, and wear sufficient thermal protection


At 5:42 PM, Blogger James said...

Thanks for this reminder! It's so easy for those of us who are used to taking medication for headaches to not even think about what the consequences may be.

I left you a little thank you at my blog. Thanks again!


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