Vertigo During a Dive – Which Way Is Up?

Vertigo During a Dive – Which Way Is Up?

Have you ever experienced vertigo doing a dive?

It’s the same feeling you get when spinning too many times around. Often when it happens it’s due to different bits of pressure on your eardrums. For example, if one ear is equalized and the other isn’t it’ll put your senses off-kilter creating a sense of vertigo.

As soon as the other ear “pops” you should be fine and the vertigo is long gone.

Vertigo can also happen if you can’t equalize and your eardrum ruptures with resulting vertigo happening due to cold water entering the middle ear. This will also be accompanied by a great deal of pain in the ear just before the drum ruptures. The pain will, and a big pain relive just after the burst, followed by vertigo.

Vertigo on a dive can give you the feeling that the world is turning upside down, and this can be very frightening underwater.

Watch the bubbles

A diver afflicted by vertigo gets disorientated, swimming down when he, in fact, wants to go up.
A diver afflicted by vertigo gets disorientated, swimming down when he, in fact, wants to go up.
Photo by: Tomasz Szymanski

If vertigo continues it is best to abort the dive and exit the water, but when you are completely disorientated and don’t know up from down, ascending can be difficult. You can always watch the bubbles unless there is really strong downwards current, they’re always going up.

Remember to ascend as slowly as possible, especially if you not able to look at your dive computer or depth gauge.

Another good way to know which way is up is to look at the water in your mask. Water will always go down, so go the opposite way of the water drops in your mask.

Signal your buddy

Always, always signal your dive buddy that you have a problem.

You might not have a signal for vertigo but hopefully, they’ll be able to see what’s going on. Otherwise the signal: ‘problem’, followed by the ‘up’ signal, this should make her swim to you and assist your ascent.

Vertigo might stop after ascending a little bit, but that doesn’t mean your problem is solved. Probably it just means that the water inside your ears has warmed to body temperature.

You still need to end the dive, ascend normally, and have your ears checked by a physician who’s specialized in ear, nose, and throat.

Photo: Rich Carey
Photo: Rich Carey

Have you ever lost control on a dive?

Have you ever had problems with vertigo during a dive? How did it happen and how did you solve the problem?


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Chang Chung
Chang Chung
Reply to  Torben Lonne

I was once diving whilst at school. Some of pulled my pants down but I was confused underwater, I wasnt sure whether I should pull them up or push them down. I ended up settling for pants mid way. The important thing was not to panic, if the pants had comes off completely, I may not have made it.

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