Headaches after diving are pretty common and most of scuba divers experience some headaches during their diving careers. Nonetheless, you don’t want to let this irritating discomfort ruin your dive trips. There are plenty of reasons why you can get a headache after diving. Let’s take a look at some of the most common causes of headaches after diving and how you can prevent them.

Dehydration headache 

The dehydration headache is the most common type of headache during dive days, especially when diving in a hot, tropical environment. Many times it’s accompanied with dizziness. You can get dehydration headaches by simply forgetting to drink enough fluids during the day. An easy fix to that is to have your water bottle always close by. A good option is to drink mineral water or to add some salts and lime/lemon to your distilled water. During the hot and sunny dive days it’s also important to seek shade during the surface intervals. It’s good to remember that excessive alcohol consumption before diving leads to dehydration. Also caffeine acts as a diuretic, so you might want to cut down your caffeine intake during the dive day.

Increased levels of CO2/Skipping breaths and hyperventilating underwater

Sometimes divers try so hard to make their air last longer, in order to get nice long dives and to have the same air consumption as the rest of the dive group. This can lead to skip breathing while artificially trying to reduce air consumption. When you’re skipping breaths you’re ’messing’ with the carbon dioxide removal. Increased levels of carbon dioxide are then the cause of your post-dive headache.

Just remember that the bigger you are, the more air you will breathe and there’s nothing wrong with that. More tissue and more muscle means more oxygen is needed to fuel them. That’s why you should compare your air consumption with someone who is the same size as you. Also it takes time and practice to be relaxed underwater, breathe slowly and get those nice long dives. Patience is key here!

Hyperventilating underwater is also a reason to get a headache. Sometimes divers get really anxious and stressed underwater. For example, this can be caused by diving in strong currents when you have to work a bit harder to get where you need to go. This extra work means you get overexerted and might start to hyperventilate. When a diver hyperventilates, he fails to exhale the used air completely from the lungs and because of that, following breaths are only partially full because the space of the lungs is already occupied. This is the explanation for shortness of breath. Also, in this case, the carbon dioxide levels increase by the fast breathing which leaves you with a headache after the dive.

Let’s remember the number one rule while diving; never hold your breath! If you find yourself working a bit too hard for some reason underwater and feel like you’re losing your breath, try to find a place on the reef (rock or sandy bottom) or your buddy’s shoulder to hold on for a moment to calm yourself and your breathing.

headache after diving

Anxiety/Tension headache

Tension headaches are really common after diving. You might be a little nervous, have some anxiety or you’re just simply cold. Because of that, you tense your shoulders and neck area which easily leads to muscle pain and headache. Nervousness usually goes away when you get more comfortable with scuba and your skills underwater. Staying relaxed is the key to enjoying your dives more and that way you don’t strain your muscles. Always make sure you use appropriate exposure suit for the environment so you don’t need to tense your body because of the cold. If you get cold easily you might want to invest in hoodie or just a hood to keep your head and neck protected since heat loss from the head is fastest.

Clenching your jaw and biting your mouthpiece too hard during the dive are reasons to suffer from headache after diving as well. Some divers find that their mouthpiece doesn’t fit right or the regulator is heavy and you feel you have to bite hard to keep it in your mouth. If tensing your jaw and biting your mouthpiece are problems that don’t seem to go away, one solution that helps is to buy a different kind or moldable mouthpiece for your regulator. For some this helps them feel that regulator stays in place without biting it like crazy.

Sinus Headache

When you have a sinus headache, you feel the pain in your face, forehead or around cheekbones. This is called sinus squeeze which can occur during descent or ascent. It happens when a diver fails to equalize the pressure or when a diver goes diving while having inflammation due to cold or allergies. When there is congestion and mucus blocking the sinus cavities and the air inside can’t equalize itself, like they normally would do, and you might end up having a headache. An obvious way to avoid this is not to dive when you’re sick (and by learning proper equalizing techniques that works for you). Also, never use decongestant while diving because it might wear off during the dive and then your sinuses will be blocked again.

DCS Headache

If headache occurs several hours after diving and is accompanied with joint pain, skin rash, dizziness, fatigue, or nausea… then you could suspect that you might have decompression sickness. Decompression sickness can take place after long, deep dives when a diver ascent too quickly or makes panic ascent and that way doesn’t give the body time to release accumulated nitrogen. Also, there are many other factors that contributes to the susceptibility of DCS including age, weight, hydration, diet, etc. You can avoid decompression sickness by following your dive computer. Also, stay well within the no decompression limits, always make the three minute safety stop at five meters and control your ascent; no faster that 18 meters per minute… Most likely DCS occurs because of diver error. Don’t push your limits and always follow safe diving practices.

Azul Unlimited

We are a PADI dive center in Labuan Bajo, Indonesia offering daily dive trips to the Komodo National Park. The PADI courses available include Discover Scuba Diving, Open Water, Advanced, Rescue, EFR, Divemaster and Sidemount. Join us for an unforgettable experience diving in one of the top dive destinations in the world!