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What Happens to Your Lungs When Scuba Diving?

diving, maldives, sea-261585.jpg

Even a quick dip in the pool evokes certain responses in our body, so you can expect a scuba dive to do quite a bit, especially to your lungs and respiratory system.

Your lungs stiffen as you dive due to your dive reflex that redirects blood to this area to conserve energy. This, along with the increase of pressure and decreased volume of air in your lungs, makes it more difficult to breathe oxygen efficiently.

This is a run-down version of how diving affects your lungs, but understanding the full scope of the change can help you dive safely through preparation and recognition of issues. Keep reading as we explore these changes, symptoms of diving related lung injuries, and explain how divers are proactive with these concerns.

Is Scuba Diving Good for Your Lungs?

Scuba diving can be good for your lungs if you respect the need to condition your body, but attempting a dive without proper preparation or respecting the limits of your body can lead to lung injury or long-term concerns.

In a perfect world, scuba diving encourages you to find ways to breathe oxygen with more efficiency, but diving once won’t offer that benefit. Instead, you need to exercise your lungs out of the water to garner the muscle memory needed to breathe efficiently during a dive.

Failing to do this can dash any expectations you had for your dive by using up your air too quickly or causing painful and concerning injuries.

Why Do Lungs Hurt After Scuba Diving?

While we’ll dig deeper into more serious lung health concerns in the next section, it’s not uncommon for your lungs to hurt after scuba diving. Even those who maintain regular breathing exercises may run into these issues, and it ties directly to your body adapting to a new environment.

Your lungs are under more pressure when underwater, and this only increases the deeper you go. While you can work on efficient breathing to keep you calm and maximize your dive time, it doesn’t accommodate for operation under different pressure.

This, combined with the stiffness of your lungs as blood pools to the area, puts more stress on the surrounding muscles. The pain becomes more apparent when you return to your normal air pressure on land.

This hurt should lessen over time if you dive regularly, but expect soreness when you start out or return to diving after a long break.

What Does Lung Squeeze Feel Like?

Lung squeeze, also known as pulmonary barotrauma (PBT) or chest squeeze, is damage or injury to your lungs related to the increased pressure from a dive. It’s a condition unique to breath-hold diving that does not make use of a breathing apparatus.

Freediver Peter Scott said that his experience with PBT left him with the “distinct feeling that [his] lungs were coated from the inside with blood” because he could not breathe well enough to swim on his own. This experience was accompanied by other common symptoms of PBT, including:

  • Feeling of fluid in lungs
  • Intense coughing (including coughing up blood)
  • Wheezing and shortness of breath
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Tightness in the lungs
  • Pain in the chest area

Lung squeeze affects everyone differently. While someone may recover in a matter of hours, another individual can suffer trauma so severe it causes death.

How Do You Recover From Lung Squeeze?

Most divers recover from lung squeeze, but this doesn’t mean they’re in the clear. Recurrence is a common issue following the initial trauma, especially if you don’t take care of your body.

While preventing PBT is much more effective, recovery involves:

  • Recognizing the issue as soon as possible and ceasing physical activity
  • Immediate rest (possibly with 100% medical oxygen)
  • Fluid intake (if airway is secure)
  • At least 2 weeks without diving or physical activity

Those that suffer from lung squeeze should always consult a medical professional, ideally one experienced with diving-related conditions. A seemingly mild case can easily take a turn for the works, and a physician can let you know when your lungs are strong enough to return to diving with minimal risk.

Signs of Lung Injury After Scuba Diving

The symptoms listed below may seem common, but they’re early signs of dangerous lung injuries that divers face after their time underwater.

While pain in the lungs is the most obvious indicator of injury, these signs can occur at any time and still warn of a major issue.


A headache after diving warns that part of your body is not working properly. Breathing efficiency and lung injury are a common concern, but headaches are also a symptom of:

  • Dehydration
  • Heat stroke
  • DCS II

A mild headache may only require monitoring, but more severe issues are usually paired with neurological symptoms, immense pain, nausea or vomiting, or a change in mental status.


It’s important to recognize the difference between vertigo and dizziness. Vertigo strictly refers to the feeling that everything is spinning, and if it happens during or after a dive, you can assume a relation between the two.

Vertigo is a common symptom of DCS issues, as well as breathing impure oxygen or suffering an imbalance in ear equalization. Persistent vertigo indicates a more serious condition, and you should visit an ENT before attempting another dive.

Chest Pain

Chest pain is a common indication of PBT, especially when accompanied by the symptoms listed in the section above. Another issue to look out for is pain or discomfort when you swallow.

If your chest pain stays to one side, feeling sharp or tight, it may be a collapsed lung (pneumothorax). This condition is often accompanied by shortness of breath, rapid heart rate and breathing, coughing, fatigue, and bluish skin.

Weakness (Paralysis or Partial Paralysis)

While paralysis is an obvious message that something is wrong, weakness or partial paralysis should also catch your attention. This happens most often in your extremities, and it points towards Type II DCS.

Weakness can be a sign of an arterial gas embolism (AGE) that occurs when nitrogen bubbles form in your tissues and bloodstream. It can lead to bloody froth from your mouth or nose and convulsions, but the most common sign is loss of consciousness.

Do Scuba Divers Have Bigger Lungs?

Scuba divers do not have bigger lungs. Most who ask this question want to know if scuba diving increases total lung capacity, a metric that refers to the most oxygen your body can use. This is a set standard and therefore cannot be increased.

Read Post  Can You Scuba Dive Without a License?

Instead of increasing lung size or attempting to take in more air, scuba divers focus on improving their lung function. This improves the body’s ability to oxygenate blood and remove harmful gasses, and it allows for more efficient use of your scuba gear while underwater.

How Do Scuba Divers Increase Lung Function?

In order to increase lung function, those serious about scuba diving perform certain exercises out of the water to become more efficient at breathing. This allows them to:

  • Remain calm under water
  • Use less air
  • Spend more time on their dive
  • Limit the risk of lung injury

Divers use diaphragmatic breathing to draw air deep into the lungs where it is handled with greater efficiency. Most of the gas exchange occurs in the lower ⅓ of the lungs, and using the diaphragm to suck air to this area allows divers to breathe less frequently while increasing gas exchange.

They must practice this out of the water to make it effective during a dive, focusing on retraining their diaphragm to expand the area and suck air deep.

Staying in shape is key to improving lung function, especially when divers focus on cardiovascular exercises to improve circulation and efficiency.

While yoga is not considered a traditionally intense workout, it works well to acclimate divers to segmented breathing. By dividing the process of inhaling and exhaling, divers get a better understanding of how to use different muscles and how to use smaller sections of air.

Why Do Scuba Diver’s Lungs Not Collapse?

A collapsed lung is not impossible underwater, but it happens far less often than you would think. The key to preventing a collapsed lung is balancing the pressure inside of your lungs with the surrounding environment.

This is why you follow rules such as:

  • Never holding your breath underwater
  • Ascending slowly (usually at a rate of
  • Disclosing pre-existing medical conditions
  • Remaining calm underwater

A collapsed lung happens most often when a diver holds too much air in their lungs as they ascend. The volume of the air increases, rupturing the thin tissues surrounding the lungs and allowing air to escape.

While your lungs are much more sensitive underwater, following proper diving procedures and focusing on safety allows you the best chance at an enjoyable dive.

Feeling Sick After Scuba Diving? Here’s What You Need to Know

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?

feeling sick after scuba diving

A lot of things can cause sickness after diving. The following can be your condition:

Motion sickness

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
  • Nausea
  • 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:


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
  • Nausea
  • Problems with balance
  • Difficulty focusing the eyes
  • Sweating

You can use some home remedies if your vertigo is still bearable. The following are some of the effective solutions to this problem:

  • Epley maneuver
  • Brandt-Daroff exercise
  • Semont-Toupet maneuver

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:

1. Confusion

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.

4. Mottling

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.

6. Dizziness

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.

Final words

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.

lungs hurt after diving..have I hurt myself?

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I have seen posts along this line but to a new diver, as myself, breathing under water at 15 meters is serious stuff. I just took my open water PADI training and I was nervous, but slowly got more comfortable as dives on day 2 occurred. Day 3 we were to go to 18 meter (our deepest dive) and when we got to the safety stop, the instructor indicated that we were to make the ascent making the “sound” while exhaling. I was not clear of the type of ascent we were going to make before we went in the water. We ascended. I however, did run out of exhale on the way up..and not understanding. (and I was out of air) I inhaled again, and made the sound more. and again before we finished ascending took in air two more times. Then when we got to the top, I was told it was all supposed to be on one breath. Literally, I did not have enough air to come up. which concerns me since the “teaching” says how our lungs expand and we will NOT run out of oxygen on the ascent . BUT I DID. so what happened? Now since my lungs are hurting I am concerned that I hurt myself. I feel knocked out and also have had terrible gas in my stomach. if anyone can alleviate my concerns I would be most welcome.


CCR Instructor Trainer

I have seen posts along this line but to a new diver, as myself, breathing under water at 15 meters is serious stuff. I just took my open water PADI training and I was nervous, but slowly got more comfortable as dives on day 2 occurred. Day 3 we were to go to 18 meter (our deepest dive) and when we got to the safety stop, the instructor indicated that we were to make the ascent making the “sound” while exhaling. I was not clear of the type of ascent we were going to make before we went in the water. We ascended. I however, did run out of exhale on the way up..and not understanding. (and I was out of air) I inhaled again, and made the sound more. and again before we finished ascending took in air two more times. Then when we got to the top, I was told it was all supposed to be on one breath. Literally, I did not have enough air to come up. which concerns me since the “teaching” says how our lungs expand and we will NOT run out of oxygen on the ascent . BUT I DID. so what happened? Now since my lungs are hurting I am concerned that I hurt myself. I feel knocked out and also have had terrible gas in my stomach. if anyone can alleviate my concerns I would be most welcome.

The fact that you were breathing, either in or out indicates your airway was open and probably didn’t damage your lungs. I can’t comment on your pain issue or the stomach gas but I would not worry about barotrauma from what you described. Thanks for posting your question, it never hurts to ask.
“How do you know if there are any hornets in the nest unless you whack it once in a while”



The point of “making a sound” is to keep your airway open. if you hold your breath during ascent, the air in your lungs will expand and can cause you an injury, as you would know from your OW training. So as long as you didn’t hold your breath and/or ascend too fast, it’s unlikely your ascent caused you an injury IMO. Possibly you’re sore from being tense/nervous during the dive

However I am not a doctor, and I would suggest you consult your instructor or a local dive doctor if possible

“You may not agree with everything I say but at the very least you’ll come to understand that your differing opinion is wrong”



Call DAN they are there to help and it is free. If you do not already have dive insurance make sure you sign up for it. Cheap insurance since your regular insurance will probably not cover a chamber ride.



Not sure where you took your course, but – at least in the U.S. – most instructors automatically sign students up for free DAN insurance during the class.



Messages 2,351 Reaction score 14 Location Alaska / Florida / In the air between the two. # of dives I’m a Fish!

too bad you did not understand before performing the ascent.
When you make the sound. you only need to let a small amount of air out as you exhale. Since you ran out of air repeatedly you obviously exhaled large volumes on the way up. The idea is to keep your airway open to allow expanding gas a way out.

You should talk to your doctor about your concerns. It doesn’t hurt to be cautious.


Old men ought to be explorers

Messages 52,642 Reaction score 7,028 Location One kilometer high on the Texas Central Plains # of dives 500 – 999

Carbon Monoxide is toxic, odorless, tasteless, and can be produced by any overheated compressor, but most fill stations don’t test. You can test the tanks you breathe or – dive on hope.
Testing is safer. The agencies & DAN are doing little as exposure is bad for business and the industry. It gets boring checking tank after tank always getting zeroes until you get your first tank failure, then you view it all as worthwhile.

AND, always take your own CO alarm on any overnight trip!
See Carbon Monoxide kills again, while they slept”



I think the OP was describing the OW class version of a controlled emergency swimming ascent (CESA): keep reg in mouth, make sound while exhaling on the way to the surface — all with one breath. For the benefit of the OP, a CESA is what you need to do if you run out of gas while under water. That’s why the instructor didn’t want you to do any inhalations during the exercise. It’s not that inhalations were dangerous at all. It’s just that you were practicing what to do when your tank is empty. Performing a successful CESA is a requirement for OW certification.

Breathing in and out during an ascent is perfectly fine. As others have pointed out, this means your airway is open and any expanding gas inside the lungs can escape. This is how all scuba divers normally do ascents. Just relax, keep breathing, and you shouldn’t experience any lung-overexpansion problems.

There are many different kinds of “lung” pain. Your description is very vague. In the absence of more info, I interpret “lung pain” to mean chest pain that feels more internal. You really should get checked out by a physician if you’re feeling any abnormal pain. especially if it’s accompanied by painful/troubled breathing or seems to be getting worse. If you become aware of escalating pain, painful/troubled breathing, neuro symptoms or anything else that seems “serious,” go straight to the Emergency Room! Patients complaining of severe/unusual chest pain are usually seen pretty quickly in the ER. If you’re not sure what constitutes “serious” symptoms, give DAN (Divers Alert Network) a call. They should be able to make some good recommendations. On the other hand, if the pain seems to be going away on its own and you aren’t experiencing any other symptoms, then it’s up to you whether you should see a doctor. If you do set up a regular appointment, the doctor should take a good history, perform respiratory, heart, and neuro exams, and might even do some imaging studies. The doctor will be looking for any signs of lung-overexpansion injury.

My gut tells me that if you are sitting at your computer and reading/writing posts on ScubaBoard, you’re probably not currently in a state of distress.

Being a little fatigued after OW training dives is pretty normal. Gas in the stomach is probably nothing to worry about either. I bet it was due to air that you “gulped” while trying to equalize. This is very common in a lot of OW students who rely on the swallowing technique (or some form thereof) to do ear equalization. You should know that there are several ear equalization techniques to learn about. Try them all and see what works best for you. Click on the link in my sig for excellent info provided by Dr. Kay.

Hope this info helps.

Ear Equalization problems? Check out Dr. Kay’s Ear Lecture for Divers.

What would you do? ScubaBoard has a “What if. ” series geared for beginner divers.​




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