Neurologic complications of scuba diving

Am Fam Physician. 2001 Jun 1;63(11):2211-8.


Recreational scuba diving has become a popular sport in the United States, with almost 9 million certified divers. When severe diving injury occurs, the nervous system is frequently involved. In dive-related barotrauma, compressed or expanding gas within the ears, sinuses and lungs causes various forms of neurologic injury. Otic barotrauma often induces pain, vertigo and hearing loss. In pulmonary barotrauma of ascent, lung damage can precipitate arterial gas embolism, causing blockage of cerebral blood vessels and alterations of consciousness, seizures and focal neurologic deficits. In patients with decompression sickness, the vestibular system, spinal cord and brain are affected by the formation of nitrogen bubbles. Common signs and symptoms include vertigo, thoracic myelopathy with leg weakness, confusion, headache and hemiparesis. Other diving-related neurologic complications include headache and oxygen toxicity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Barotrauma / diagnosis
  • Barotrauma / epidemiology
  • Barotrauma / etiology*
  • Decompression Sickness / diagnosis
  • Decompression Sickness / epidemiology
  • Decompression Sickness / etiology
  • Diving / injuries*
  • Ear Diseases / diagnosis
  • Ear Diseases / epidemiology
  • Ear Diseases / etiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Injury Severity Score
  • Lung Diseases / diagnosis
  • Lung Diseases / epidemiology
  • Lung Diseases / etiology*
  • Male
  • Nervous System Diseases / diagnosis
  • Nervous System Diseases / epidemiology
  • Nervous System Diseases / etiology*
  • Primary Prevention / methods
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Assessment
  • United States / epidemiology