Dive vertigo is an extremely unpleasant sensation. What’s the best way to avoid it or manage it if vertigo strikes when you’re underwater?

Dive vertigo — not to be confused with dizziness — happens when the world seems to spin when a diver isn’t even moving. It most often occurs during deep dives. Several factors can be to blame: an inner-ear infection, unequal pressure between the middle-ear compartments, or even a hood fitting more tightly over one ear than the other. Whatever the cause, it’s unpleasant, often resulting in nausea and vomiting, and can be dangerous for divers. Here are some top tips to help manage dive vertigo.

Equalize slowly and often

Equalizing often while descending is important to allow the ears to adjust to pressure changes and help prevent vertigo from occurring. Divers should also take their time descending and never “push through” ear pain when equalizing. If the ears won’t equalize, ascend a few feet and try again before descending further. Different equalization techniques work for different people and divers should try a variety to find what works best for them.

Choose the right type of dive

Divers who are prone to vertigo should give extra consideration to what type of dive will work best for them to minimize the chances of vertigo. Visual references are helpful and diving above a coral reef or sand bank can provide a visual depth-limit to focus on. Shallow dives are best for vertigo sufferers who may begin to panic, as they can ascend to the surface easily if a problem occurs. Shallow dives also provide extra light and marine life to focus on, which can help take a diver’s mind off any vertigo anxiety.

Divers who prefer to look straight ahead to prevent vertigo or nausea can opt for a wall dive with a defined depth limit below.

Open-ocean dives can be challenging for any diver. The lack of visual references or defined depth limit can trigger vertigo. It is difficult to maintain a sense of space and depth in the deep blue, so vertigo sufferers may want to avoid open-ocean dives.

Be proactive and retrain the brain

It is possible to retrain the brain to lessen anxiety-driven vertigo and to remain calm when it occurs. A calm diver experiencing vertigo is more likely to react safely and prevent a dangerous situation from developing. Two of the treatment options for vertigo are hypnotherapy and visualizations.

Athletes and other professionals use visualization when training the brain to remain calm when faced with anxiety-inducing triggers. The idea is that, with practice, the person can completely remove the anxiety response. Divers can practice visualization at home by sitting with their eyes closed and focusing on deep breathing. Visualize the scenario that brings on vertigo. Do this slowly, with the visualization ending at a point where the person is still calm. Practitioners should gradually increase the length of the visualization to include the trigger that causes anxiety to the point that anxiety no longer occurs.

Hypnotherapy is another great technique for reducing anxiety-driven responses, and a course of sessions can help address the problem. Divers can undergo hypnotherapy in-person with a therapist or use hypnotherapy recordings and distance sessions.

Stay hydrated and eat well

A vertigo attack is stressful on the body and mind.

Staying hydrated and well-nourished will help divers cope with the attack and the demands it places on the body. Divers should remember to drink plenty of water in-between dives and avoid alcohol. Eat healthy food to be in the best shape possible to manage vertigo.

This article was written by Kathryn Curzon, a diver and writer for Liveaboard.com.

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