Are you feeling sick after scuba diving? Denial will not do any good. The moment you feel something off after a plunge, you should seek medical attention right away. Sickness after diving is something divers should never shrug off as mere discomfort. Some of the causes of this sickness could be life-threatening if not addressed right away.
Your feeling of sickness after a dive could be due to a lot of things. Some aren’t serious while others should be treated right away. No matter what it is, you should always have it diagnosed properly.
Why am I feeling sick after scuba diving?
A lot of things can cause sickness after diving. The following can be your condition:
The least serious condition behind your sickness after a dive is motion sickness. If it’s your first time to dive, seasickness can be a factor. Some individuals are resistant to motion sickness while others can keep experiencing it after several trips.
A mismatch of sensory inputs is the common cause of seasickness. What you physically see and what you feel doesn’t match. When the brain fails to resolve this confusion, motion sickness occurs.
The key here is to choose a spot on the boat with the least vertical acceleration. If not avoidable, you can take medications before going on a dive. Still, most of these drugs have side effects.
Symptoms of seasickness after diving
- Dizziness or spinning
- Pale skin
- Weakness and excessive yawning
- Increased salivation
- Feeling of falling
On most cases, motion sickness doesn’t require serious medical attention. While traveling on a dive boat, it’s best to keep your eyes steady on one distance.
To ease motion sickness, you can take oral medications for temporary relief. Take note that these drugs should be taken before you hop the boat. The following are some of the medications you can take. If you have underlying conditions, you should ask the advice of a doctor.
If you’re already vomiting and can’t contain medication, your best bet is a suppository like Phenergen or Compazine.
In this video, scuba diving instructor Laura Parke tells us how to avoid sea sickness when snorkeling or scuba diving:
Another possible culprit behind the reason you’re feeling sick just after scuba diving is vertigo. It can be that you feel like you’re spinning or it’s the world around you that’s taking a whirl. This is due to the imbalance between your right and left ear, which can take place during the descend and ascent.
Usually, vertigo will last for 20 seconds during or after the dive. But if it persists for hours, and even days, you should consult a doctor right away.
Take note that inner ear infections can also trigger vertigo. It’s possible that your dive just pushed the condition to manifest.
Experiencing vertigo while underwater can be very scary. If you feel this during descend, you should signal to your diving buddy right away to abort the plunge.
In this video, Dr. Frans Cronje from DAN Southern Africa discusses vertigo and its relation to scuba diving:
The following are the signs of vertigo:
- Spinning or dizziness
- Ringing in the ears
- Problems with balance
- Difficulty focusing the eyes
You can use some home remedies if your vertigo is still bearable. The following are some of the effective solutions to this problem:
Decompression illness (DCI)
Decompression illness is one of the dreaded effects of diving. This can be a very serious condition that if not addressed right away can lead to fatal consequences.
If you feel intense fatigue, nausea, rash, itchy skin, joint pain, and headache, you should head straight to the hospital. Severe cases include memory loss, muscle weakness, paralysis, and eventually, cardiac arrest.
Take note that decompression can take place even hours after the plunge. If you feel symptoms of decompression sickness, you can call the Divers Alert Network hotline at +1-919-684-9111.
To further understand decompression illness, here’s an informative video from TED-Ed discussing the changes our body undergoes during a dive:
Decompression illness is actually a blanket term for two specific conditions: arterial gas embolism (AGE) and decompression sickness (DCS).
Arterial gas embolism (AGE)
This condition is caused by over-pressurization of the lungs. The air is forced into the lungs in an abnormal fashion, which could lead to fatal conditions. The worst cases of AGE include loss of consciousness, apnea, and cardiac arrest.
If treated on its onset, divers can recover from AGE. However, if the case is worst and not addressed immediately, it could lead to permanent damage to the diver.
Decompression sickness (DCS)
Unlike arterial gas embolism, decompression sickness is caused by the formation of nitrogen bubbles in the bloodstream. It’s caused by improper and lack of decompression during ascent.
DCS is also called ‘the bends’ among divers and the most common reason why you ma feel sick after scuba diving. Take note that it’s different from narcosis. The latter happens when the diver inhales too much nitrogen that it starts to become mildly anesthetic. A dive has to be aborted when the diver experiences narcosis.
In worst cases, DCS can lead to difficulty urinating, shortness of breath, coughing up blood, vertigo, unusual behavior, and visual disturbances.
DCS has to be treated right away through the help of a medical professional. Also, stay hydrated and avoid any alcoholic beverages. Usually, doctors will administer 100% oxygen to restore the oxygen level in the blood.
Symptoms you shouldn’t ignore after diving
If you’re feeling unwell after scuba diving, you should always see a doctor. No matter how worse or mild the symptoms are, it’s safer to consult a medical practitioner for proper diagnosis and treatment. Should you experience the following symptoms after diving, consult a doctor right away:
Confusion can be a sign of various underwater problems. You could be on the verge of narcosis, decompression sickness, and other related condition. Don’t wait for confusion to worsen before you signal to your diving buddies.
2. Chest pains
Remember this: heart attack is the leading cause of death underwater among divers. The pressure of diving, together with other factors, can trigger cardiac arrest.
If you don’t have any heart problems, you could be at the onset of pulmonary barotrauma. This over-inflation of the lungs can cause deadly damages to your internal organs if you don’t descend properly.
3. Tingling sensation
If you feel tingling sensations on your body together with another symptom in this list, you should signal for an emergency ascent. It could be a sign of decompression sickness or looming paralysis.
However, not all tingling sensations should be a cause of concern underwater. Your hands and feet can have tingling sensations if you dive in cold water. Just watch out for a second symptom.
It’s quite normal to have raisin-like skin on the hands after soaking underwater for long. However, if you’re starting to have blotchy discoloration that’s marble-like or mottled, you should be concerned. This is called skin bends, which is usually followed by the feeling of bugs creeping in your skin.
Minor cases of mottling don’t require special treatment. However, if the discoloration worsens and you’re not feeling well, you must seek medical help.
5. Belly pain
Belly pain characterized by corset-like tightness can happen as early as five minutes after your plunge. When you experience this symptom, you must re-compress quickly to prevent severe spinal cord injuries. Take note that within minutes, this condition can turn serious.
Any symptom that affects your ability to stay focus should be a cause of concern. Dizziness can be a sign of narcosis, decompression sickness, and vertigo. All of these require immediate attention before it makes a dangerous turn.
7. Vision changes
If you start to have a blurry vision while diving, you must signal to your diving buddy right away. It can be a sign of intraocular barotrauma. This can cause significant pain and light sensitivity if not treated right away.
What to do if you have these symptoms?
The first thing you have to do is seek medical help. Early signs of sickness after diving may appear mild, but it can progress and cause serious conditions.
For minor symptoms, you can do some home remedies. However, if your condition doesn’t improve, you should see a doctor right away.
When in doubt, you should always consult the professionals. Not all sickness after diving can be cured with home remedies.
How to avoid sickness after diving
1. Don’t go with an empty stomach
If you’re prone to seasickness, you shouldn’t ride the boat in an empty stomach. Have a filling meal an hour before the dive. Also, avoid acidic and greasy food as this may increase your risk of motion sickness. You should also avoid cigarettes and alcohol before the dive.
2. Stay hydrated
No matter what you’re doing, a well-hydrated body is healthy. It will also keep your tummy full to reduce the symptoms of motion sickness.
3. Avoid long dives
The longer you stay underwater, the higher the chances that you’ll develop a sickness. If you plan to dive on consecutive days, keep your plunges short to allow your body to recover.
4. Don’t hesitate to abort a dive
If you feel uneasy or on the verge of any of the symptoms above, don’t hesitate to abort the dive. Signal to your diving buddy for an emergency ascent. If you let the symptoms linger during the dive, your condition will worsen. Remember that the building pressure will make things worse.
5. Don’t dive if you’re not feeling well
If you’re in good shape before the dive, it’s never too late to abort the mission. Being unfit only increases your risk of developing sickness during and after the plunge. Your fellow divers will surely understand if you’re not going to join them. So if you’re not feeling well after scuba diving, don’t go for another plunge.
6. Avoid holding your breath
You should continue proper breathing as you descend or ascend in the water. Holding your breath will only cause pulmonary barotrauma. In worst cases, your lung may explode and have irreversible consequences.
Holding your breath is one of the most dangerous things you can ever do while diving.
7. Dive with a buddy
No matter how skilled a diver you are, you should always have a buddy when diving. Should anything happen underwater, there’s someone to rescue or watch over you. You should also do the same for your diving buddy. The buddy system is strictly observed by all divers for a very good reason: it has saved many lives already.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How long does decompression sickness linger?
A: If the DCS doesn’t have any neurological complications, the diver’s condition will improve between two and seven days. However, serious cases would take up to four weeks with the right treatment. It may take longer for some, depending on the extent of the sickness and the underlying conditions of the person.
Q: At what level will I likely experience nitrogen narcosis?
A: Usually, divers will experience narcosis at depths of beyond 100 feet. Still, narcosis can occur in shallow depths of around 33 feet. Take note that narcosis becomes worse when nitrogen inhalation is paired with intense underwater pressure.
Q: What are the most common diving emergencies?
A: Some of the medical conditions associated with diving include barotrauma, decompression sickness, vertigo, and marine envenomation. All of these conditions require immediate medical attention.
Q: Will I have vertigo when water gets into my ear?
A: It’s possible to experience signs of vertigo if fluids build up in your inner ear. If the fluids cause infection, the symptoms of vertigo will persist. The onset of vertigo may cause tinnitus, hearing loss, and fullness in the ear.
Q: Will vertigo after diving go away on its own?
A: If the vertigo is mild, it can go away on its own within 24 hours. However, if ear infection is the culprit, it may take for the symptoms to subside. It’s best to see a doctor for the right medication that will speed up your recovery.
Feeling sick after scuba diving should always be taken seriously. The moment you feel something wrong underwater, you should ascend with your buddy. Also, the help of a doctor is indispensable. You should seek the help of a medical professional for proper diagnosis and treatment of diving-related sickness.