Hypercapnia headaches | DeeperBlue.com Forums
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Hypercapnia headaches

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PJWannabe

New Member
Jun 25, 2015
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Hey guys,

So I'm not doing actual freediving. I am getting ready to join the military, and in my future job I will have to be able to swim 25m underwater on intervals. The issue is that I get MAJOR headaches sometimes. Not every underwater gives me a headache. Once, I did 1 underwater, felt very easy and comfortable the entire way, and as soon as I came up and took my first breath of fresh air I felt like my head exploded. I wound up sitting in the locker room for ~45minutes till I was able to drive, and went home and passed out. That headache lasted 4 or 5 days. Other times I've been able to complete 6 or 7 before my head starts pounding. There is never any indication that I have a headache coming until I come up and take that first breath, and then it is very sudden and violent. I believe they are triggered by excess CO2 in the blood but I am open to suggestions.

My questions are, will I build up a resistance to CO2 over time and not get these? I do O2 and CO2 tables regularly with no issues, and have a dry static hold max of 4:30, all with no sign of a headache. Is there anything I can do to combat/prevent these? I've considered releasing air throughout the swim in hopes that I will be lowering my CO2 levels in doing so. Do you think this makes sense?

Any help, or even just keywords that I can use to research myself would be a great help.
 

J Campbell

Well-Known Member
Sep 17, 2001
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Doesn't sound like a CO2 problem to me since you don't have a problem with dry statics or tables.
Sounds like sinus problems to me.
 

J Campbell

Well-Known Member
Sep 17, 2001
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I guess you could try that. I've never really heard of anyone getting a headache for days after surfacing from one shallow dive. Do you have other sinus/blockage problems? You said you've never been deeper than 3 meters. That is about the depth that you start to feel pressure in your ears. Try diving deeper ( find a pool with a deep diving well) and see you you react to that - but first learn about the importance of clearing your ears.
 

growingupninja

Lance (@socalspearit)
Mar 20, 2011
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Hypercapnia headaches usually clear within minutes of normal breathing, although hard and prolonged training (not a single 25 but 30+ cummulative minutes of breathhold swimming, or some hours of spearing) could dehydrate you or exhaust enough stored glycogen to put you into mild ketosis, which could cause a much longer lasting headache.

You will generate much, much higher levels of CO2 when doing underwater swims than you ever will with tables, but still a few 25's should not cause the kind of headaches you describe.

Sounds to me like a sinus thing and it might be good to get checked out by a dive ENT, possibly get an electrocardiograph to rule out anything else. I assume you have good solid cardio conditioning, if not you really should have a good base there before any kind of real training (tables alone are not real training). Where is the headache centered?

Good luck.
 

PJWannabe

New Member
Jun 25, 2015
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Hypercapnia headaches usually clear within minutes of normal breathing, although hard and prolonged training (not a single 25 but 30+ cummulative minutes of breathhold swimming, or some hours of spearing) could dehydrate you or exhaust enough stored glycogen to put you into mild ketosis, which could cause a much longer lasting headache.

You will generate much, much higher levels of CO2 when doing underwater swims than you ever will with tables, but still a few 25's should not cause the kind of headaches you describe.

Sounds to me like a sinus thing and it might be good to get checked out by a dive ENT, possibly get an electrocardiograph to rule out anything else. I assume you have good solid cardio conditioning, if not you really should have a good base there before any kind of real training (tables alone are not real training). Where is the headache centered?

Good luck.

I very much hope that you guys are right in pointing me in the sinus direction. I do find that when I swim, I am sniffly the next day, and with my swimming schedule I am pretty much perpetually sniffly. I bought some sinus decongestant and a neti pot and am going to try again today.

As far as where the headaches are located, they are exclusively on the right side, and near my temple/behind my eye.

I was considering going to a doctor, but I didn't figure a General Practitioner would be well equipped, and frankly I dont have time to go to a GP and then be referred. I leave in ~1month.

I appreciate the help. The level of knowledge and willingness to help in this forum is unrivaled in comparison to any forum or board I've found on any subject anywhere else on the web.
 

growingupninja

Lance (@socalspearit)
Mar 20, 2011
712
161
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If it is headache that is centered in your face and always the same place it is very likely related to sinuses...

Overall I am very lucky in that department but about once a year I get an acute infection that i feel in my cheek, completely unrelated to my ability to eq my ears, and which can prevent me from even diving 6'. Usually clears in a week, but will cause additional pain and longer if I ride it out. Pushing those things can make them chronic.

If you have never really dove/swam much before and are just now discovering this problem it may be worth getting it checked out by ENT--your local DAN branch will likely have lists of ones who have experience with divers. It is unfortunate but some people have congenital sinus issues that prevent them from diving even very shallow. Could be that or infection, but free internet diagnosis is worth what you pay for it.
 

Mawgan

New Member
Feb 19, 2021
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Hi . I know that this thread is old, but I've had a similar issue. 25 yrs ago I was swimming a lap underwater 25m, then a few breaths and another 25 m and I had a similar experience although my intense throbbing headache was at the back of my head near the base of the skull. It came back 2 weeks afterthat initial occasion whilst doing some circuit training but never after that. Since then it hasn't happened. I have been spearfishing quite a lot and done a basic free dive course in the last 15 years as well as lots of other sports with no intense headache issues. A few days ago after some time off I went to the pool and did a 25m followed by a few breaths and another 25 m. I came up to the same intense headache and the throbbing lasted 5 mins before settling down to a fuzzy foggy headache for 36 hrs and general lethargy and weakness. I went to Dr 36 hrs later and had scans... no aneurysms or vascular disease. Interestingly my blood report showed higher than normal CO2 levels? Headache had gine but the dr could not give a diagnosis? I am now 46 and consider myself fit and healthy and not at all overweight. Has anyone had anything similar or knows what it might be? I might not be exhaling when I swim. Maybe holding air in lungs?
 
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