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Scuba Brain - What Diving Does To The Brain

Updated: Aug 25, 2022

I’ve been on the island of Gili Trawangan for the last week. I’ve been here for one particular reason, to learn to dive. A few days ago I completed my open water diving course allowing me to dive up to 18m deep! Half of the course was theory based (yay…), where I learnt about all the complications of diving. Its safe to say that I had no idea how much could go wrong under water! 

Pressure Difference

The main thing I learnt about was the pressure difference when diving deeper and deeper. As you dive down, the air pressure increases which can cause some problems for a diver and their brain. Don’t get me wrong, learning to scuba diver was very fun! Under the water in the depths is a completely different world. But as much as I would love to say scuba diving is also great for your brain… it is not. 

Not Following Guidance

When delving deeper into water, divers may damage their brain by not managing their breathing which can starve their brain. This can result to some permanent neurological complications. Also, rarely, divers may develop neurological complications from oxygen toxicity. This can happen when divers get their oxygen from unreliable sources. However, if following the diving guidance, this shouldn’t happen as divers shouldn’t get air from a non reputable source anyway! If you do… then you only have yourself to blame. So… What about if you follow all the guidance? 


Well, the research is rather interesting. Tetzlaff et al (2013) looked at diver’s brains who had no prior account of complication when diving. The divers used in the study could not recall a time when they felt sick from diving. Even so, Tetzlaff found that the divers had evidence of lesions (tissue damage) in the central nervous system (brain and spinal chord). Results also showed that some divers showed abnormal neurological function meaning that their cognitive skills were lower than normal.

Coco et al (2019) further supported this by finding that repetitive diving, even when using the recommended diving tables could lead to micro lesions in the central nervous system which could alter neurological function. 

Blood-flow in the brain

Maybe we will find some good research into diving! Sadly no… Slosman et al (2004) researched into diver’s memory. The group of researchers looked into diving history, neurological performance and blood flow in the brain. The results showed that reduced neurological performance and blood flow in the brain was associated with the more dives a diver had done in their lifetime. They also noted that sometimes breath-hold divers (divers who do not use an oxygen tank and rely on their lung capacity alone) document ‘stroke like’ injuries when diving. 


It seems that, unfortunately, and I regret to say, that scuba diving is not so great for the brain! Research seems to consistently suggest that the more you dive, the higher the risk is of getting lesions in the central nervous system which may alter your neurological functioning. However… it is very important to note (thank god), that the research discussed is for divers who dive more than 100 times a year and who go VERY deep in the water. So if you’re planning on diving, do it, just make sure it’s only 99 times a year…



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