Monday, October 24, 2005

Diving Headaches

After diving, many people get minor to severe headaches. What's causing this? There are many different types of headaches, and if persistent, you'll need to visit a doctor familiar with diving for a thorough examination to determine whether yours are related to diving.

Most diving headaches are caused by either carbon dioxide retention or sinus barotrauma. However, there are other causes and here are some things you can do to prevent them from ruining your dives.

Carbon Dioxide Headaches

Symptoms: Post-dive localized throbbing pain

The carbon dioxide headache, one of the most common for divers, is caused by an increase in the body's carbon dioxide level, which stimulates receptors in the brain's blood vessels, causing them to dilate. An increase in the brain's blood flow to these receptors leads to headaches. Typically, they are caused by a diver taking shallow sips of air, which allows carbon dioxide to accumulate. This buildup can also occur when a diver "skip breathes" by pausing after each inhalation and holding the throat closed. Taking measured, slow, complete breaths under water is the best way to avoid carbon dioxide headaches, which don't respond to analgesics or migraine medications.

Tension Headaches

Symptoms: Post-dive neck and head pain

New divers often experience tension headaches resulting from the stress of their first experiences in the underwater world. Clenched jaws and muscular stress in the neck and back of the head from the hyperextended position required for diving lead to these types of headaches, which usually disappear once the diver gains experience and becomes more relaxed under water.

Migraine Headaches

Symptoms: Severe headaches with nausea

Post-dive vomiting can be caused by a migraine headache, but, if coupled with other symptoms, could possibly indicate a headache caused by decompression sickness. If the diver has a history of migraine headaches, then there could be a direct correlation between diving and the onset of the cranial pressure. Unless they are able to take measures to prevent a migraine attack, people with migraines should not dive. If the diver has migraines accompanied by aura (visual anomalies), he should be checked for patent foramen ovale, which may be a factor in undeserved DCS hits.

DCS Headaches

Symptoms: Post-dive headache with neurological deficit

A headache that comes on strong after a dive, coupled with other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, joint pain, dizziness, ringing in the ears, muscle aches, localized swelling, itching or skin rash, could indicate the onset of Type II decompression illness or an arterial gas embolism. This, the most severe dive-related headache, requires a quick response from onboard personnel and a call to the Divers Alert Network to coordinate hyperbaric treatment.

Sinus Headaches

Symptoms: Forehead, face and eye pain during ascent or descent

A diver without a history of migraines could be suffering from a sinus headache, especially if he has a history of problems equalizing. Shifting pressure based on changes in depth without proper equalization can lead to sinus barotrauma. This pain usually spreads across the forehead and eyes. Thus, inflammation of the sinuses, caused by colds or allergies, can further complicate diving.

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