Help! I went scuba diving and now I think my head will explode!
March 20, 2011 3:56 PM   Subscribe

I went scuba diving for the first time today-- I´m in Mexico, so it was at a resort. They gave us a pool training session and then took us out on the boat-- I believe our final dive was at 45 meters. The trouble is, I had a hard time equalizing my ears on the descent, and at the bottom I still wasn´t entirely comfortable pressure-wise. I kept going though (maybe unwisely) and felt ok for the duration.

When we came up, my group noticed I had a slight bloody nose, which went away quickly and didn´t seem to be cause for alarm. My right ear was mostly fine, just a sensation like there was a little water in my ear. My left ear, though, is still painful. It feels pressurized almost, and I can´t hear too well out of it-- sounds are muffled and indistinct.

I have only just gotten to the point where extended yawns will do anything to `pop` the pressure inside, but it doesn´t last long.

My concern is, I have to fly home in two days. Is this going to be a seriously painful experience? What can I do to get rid of this sensation or fix my ear? Do I need to see a doctor? Is my head going to explode on the flight home?

posted by lockstitch to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd see a doctor, who will probably suggest decongestants. Your head won't explode, but your eardrum might pop, which causes weeks of unpleasantness.
posted by scruss at 4:01 PM on March 20, 2011

Best answer: There's no way your dive was 45metres - you'll want to get in contact with the master diver and find out what the depth really was (it may be relevant).

Regardless, You need to see a doctor before you fly home, ideally one with some experience treating divers (should be possible if you're in an area where diving is popular). Your head will probably not literally explode, but you really don't want to mess with this - diving can be quite dangerous if not done safely, and it sounds like you were not able to equalize. If you've done some damage, you'll want to make sure the pressure changes from flying aren't going to make it worse or make temporary injury into permanent damage.
posted by scrute at 4:02 PM on March 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

you turn off your computer and go to a damn doctor right this minute. Go. To. The. Doctor. NOW.
posted by billypilgrim at 4:02 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

As a first resort, find and take original Sudafed with diphenhydramine. Under NO circumstances fly without seeing a doctor. You are at risk of blowing a ear drum if you do not.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:10 PM on March 20, 2011

45 feet for a first dive, maybe. 45 meters is pretty damn deep for anyone, let alone a first timer. Go to a doctor.
posted by holterbarbour at 4:11 PM on March 20, 2011

Maximum sport SCUBA certification depth is 130 feet. Depths below 90 ft are unusual, and almost all recreational dives take place above 60 ft. It better not have been 45 meters, as this very dangerous for an inexperienced diver. This experience shows why one should never go diving at resorts without complete training and certification first. Get thee to a doctor immediately.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 4:49 PM on March 20, 2011

I think DarlingBri means pseudoephedrine?, which used to be the active ingredient in Sudafed (diphenhydramine is an antihistamine as in Benadryl, not a decongestant).
posted by Tandem Affinity at 6:04 PM on March 20, 2011

This was one of those "Discover Scuba" resort courses, wasn't it? I hate those frickin' things. You were probably at 45 feet.
posted by cyndigo at 6:06 PM on March 20, 2011

Best answer: Yeah, it was definitely 45 feet. If you had difficulty equalizing on a 45m dive you'd be deaf right now.

All of the above suggestions are great, and you definitely need to see a doctor before flying. Right now though, try this:

Plug your nose. Close your mouth. Inhale gently (to put pressure on your sinus cavity). If it starts to hurt, STOP DOING IT. If not, slowly inhale harder and harder until you feel your membranes pop inwards. It shouldn't hurt, but it will feel weird if you're not used to it.

Again, if it hurts at any point during this little exercise, stop it immediately and see a doctor.

Now, assuming your membranes popped a bit and they feel a bit weird/tight in your head, plug your nose and close your mouth again. Exhale into your mouth (to put pressure on your sinuses again) until you feel you can feel your membranes pop outwards. Things will probably sound funny and feel weird, but not as weird as before.

Now swallow. That should equalize the pressure in your sinus cavity. If it doesn't take the first time, try swallowing a few times. Again, if you experience any pain throughout this entire process, cease immediately and run to a doctor.

Even if this little thing helps and you feel better, you should honestly still have a doctor check you out before you fly. It might be a drag, but bursting an eardrum is supremely painful and I wouldn't wish that on anyone.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:17 PM on March 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh also, another little trick that I've found can help to release over-pressurization is to do the above process backwards (IE exhale first, then inhale) or shift your jaw around like it's sore. Left to right, up and down. You basically want to stretch your jaw to it's max degree of motion in every conceivable way and grind it around a bit. It's uncomfortable, but it's helped me before. If alternate between that and making over exaggerated swallowing gulps it usually clears up.

Again, I can't over emphasize the importance of getting checked out by a doctor before flying, even if the discomfort goes away.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:21 PM on March 20, 2011

I vacationed in Mexico recently and caught a bad cold while I was there, which led me to learn that Sudafed/pseudoephedrine is illegal there -- not just kept behind the counter, but not available at all. Don't waste an afternoon searching for a store that sold some, like I did. Find a doctor.
posted by chowflap at 8:39 PM on March 20, 2011

Best answer: IANAD IANYD.

I have done lots of scuba stuff with lots of people, I have sinus problems here is what I know.

My guess is that everything will be fine. First off, flying is MUCH less stressful on your ears then diving to 45ft. Diving to 33ft is the same difference as going to space pressure wise.

Your nose bleed is normal and fine, again IMNAD, I have nose bleeds because of sinus issues. Lots of divers have the same reaction. As your sinuses off gas they can pop. I had a doc tell me its not a big deal and not to worry about it. lots of things can cause nose bleeds.

If you go to a doctor ask for Afrin It's the most commonly used thing for this type of problem. If your not going to a doctor any decent otc decongestant should do.

The one thing that concerns me would be a reverse squeeze followed by a ruptured ear drum. For some reason, again no medical background here, they almost always cause an ear infection. But you can fly with an ear infection.

My best piece of advice would be to use this a learning experience, you cannot learn to dive in one hour, anyone that claims they can teach you in one hour does not give a rat's ass about your safety. Anyone can scuba dive, but you need training to be able to work through the problems. Never force a clear and never dive if you are not 100%.
posted by Felex at 12:08 AM on March 21, 2011

inhale/exhale exercises (as thsmchnekllsfascists described them) should be the first step. if they don't work, it's worth trying a decongestant. even if you didn't have obvious symptoms of a cold, there may have been some mucus buildup in that general area. i usually have a little trouble equalizing during dives and recently had some trouble during a flight. decongestants always help (me).
posted by hoca efendi at 5:35 AM on March 21, 2011

What Felex said, a thousand times. I hate those resort courses because they turn so many people OFF from scuba diving, since they have a rushed crappy experience. Should have mentioned the first time that I get bloody noses/reverse squeeze pretty often ... that itself is not a big deal.

Please come back after your doctor visit (or after your flight) and let us know how it went.
posted by cyndigo at 11:34 AM on March 21, 2011

It sounds as if you have a "reverse squeeze", in other words pressure building up on ascent. If you did not notice anything on your descent and practiced proper "equalization" on the way down, then you possibly ignored the symptoms on the way up. With that being said you should contact DAN ( Divers Alert Network) if you have their dive insurance and as well I believe they will direct you to a proper doctor to deal with the issue. Only a doctor should advise you who is familiar with diving illnesses. In water recompression is not the answer right now you should seek medical attention. This condition may be indicative on other realted problems, again you should seek COMPETENT MEDICAL ATTENTION.
The process of the reverse squeeze will pass, however the issue is to seek medical attention now. Diving is a safe sport, hobby, interest what ever. However a competent instructor is not going to buzz you through a course, and your depth limitation seems from what you are saying to have been to far in excess of safe diving practices. Beginning Open Water divers have an established safe depth limit of 65 feet and up. Advanced Open Water Divers in a deep diving course from 65 to 130 feet, with proper instruction. I do not know what certification level your instructor had, nor you. But 45 meters as mentioned above is considered "Technical Diving" and out of the realm of your dive certification range. Dive limits are established as safety limits. I would suggest you find a competent dive instruction course, there is no mention here of your in pool sessions, or you open water dive certification dives. I suspect you if as you reported went to a "Discover SCUBA" type session and if so then several rules of diving were violated and your safety was ignored. 1 hour or 2 is not a certification course. You need to discuss the matter of training with the certifying agency of the dive instruction you had at the resort, however I find it doubtful that such was ever certified as to dive instruction, certainly not through PADI, NAUI, SSI or any other reputable certifying agency.No competent instructor is going to take a beginner to 45 meters, in which case would be 140.212 feet which is an entirely different set of dive safety protocols. Standard of diving as I said is a max of 130 feet.
Seek Medical attention and competent Dive Training before you dive again
posted by LeeChamberlain at 12:03 PM on March 22, 2011

Response by poster: Hi all, thanks for the great responses. It was 45 feet, I was definitely mistaken about it being meters. Since it was at a resort, it was one of those "Discover Scuba Diving" courses that several of you mentioned, but the divers were PADI certified (or said they were-- I would hope that they weren't faking that credential).

The muffled hearing went away overnight, but I was noticing some "watery" feeling in my ears. The breathing/pressurization exercises that thsmchnekllsfascists suggested were extremely helpful-- thanks for those! I used those and took a decongestant with paracetamol (it was a decongestant with an antihistamine) which cleared out the fluid for the flight. The flight was fine (tho long).

I went to the doctor this morning, and it turns out there's the beginning of an infection in one ear, and fluid in the other, so I'm now taking azithromycin to kill the infection. Time is the only way the fluid is going away, so I'm leaving the other ear alone.

RE: the scuba course. I really agree that the resort discovery course was not the way to go. Unfortunately I found the entire experience a little alarming-- there's so much to remember about the equipment, you're under water and it's scary (you could drown! you could pop your eardrums and be deaf! you could lose your mask and not see anything! you could get stung by a sea creature!). Going from the fifteen or so minutes in the pool to the open ocean was not a smooth transition, mentally at least. I really think scuba could be something I'd enjoy but I would have to take a long course in order to feel comfortable doing it again.

It's kind of unfortunate there's no way to let people know the resort courses aren't a good idea-- they definitely have a captive audience and you can't know how you're going to like it or not until after you've already taken the half-day trip.
posted by lockstitch at 5:58 PM on March 24, 2011

Tandem Affinity: "I think DarlingBri means pseudoephedrine?, which used to be the active ingredient in Sudafed (diphenhydramine is an antihistamine as in Benadryl, not a decongestant)."

Yes, thank you. I couldn't remember the name of the magical Sudafed ingredient and made a bad Google call!
posted by DarlingBri at 6:02 PM on March 24, 2011

It's kind of unfortunate there's no way to let people know the resort courses aren't a good idea-- they definitely have a captive audience and you can't know how you're going to like it or not until after you've already taken the half-day trip.

I completely agree. I got into diving via one of those courses, but after I spent a bit studying the PADI books and getting certified, I was HORRIFIED about the shit our instructor had us do.

The "Discover SCUBA" courses are a huge money-maker for the resorts, and as such, are never really subject to any real scrutiny.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 6:10 PM on March 24, 2011

Thanks for the follow-up.

There's huge controversy about those courses, but unfortunately PADI *does* allow them, as they seem much more interested in merely making a buck these days. What you can do is to tell everyone you know NOT to waste money on Discover Scuba. I think the best way to go is to do your bookwork and pool exercises locally, then do check-out dives in a tropical locale if you wish. (Your local dive shop will transfer the paperwork.)

Two dear friends will never dive again after bad Discover Scuba experiences, and as a passionate diver that breaks my heart. So glad that you're OK!
posted by cyndigo at 9:01 PM on March 24, 2011

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