Prolonged syncope with multifactorial pulmonary oedema related to dry apnoea training: Safety concerns in unsupervised dry static apnoea

Diving Hyperb Med. 2021 Jun 30;51(2):210-215. doi: 10.28920/dhm51.2.210-215.


Many competitive breath-hold divers use dry apnoea routines to improve their tolerance to hypoxia and hypercapnia, varying the amount of prior hyperventilation and lung volume. When hyperventilating and exhaling to residual volume prior to starting a breath-hold, hypoxia is reached quickly and without too much discomfort from respiratory drive. Cerebral hypoxia with loss of consciousness (LOC) can easily result. Here, we report on a case where an unsupervised diver used a nose clip that is thought to have interfered with his resumption of breathing after LOC. Consequently, he suffered an extended period of severe hypoxia, with poor ventilation and recovery. He also held his breath on empty lungs; thus, trying to inhale created an intrathoracic sub-atmospheric pressure. Upon imaging at the hospital, severe intralobular pulmonary oedema was noted, with similarities to images presented in divers suffering from pulmonary barotrauma of descent (squeeze, immersion pulmonary oedema). Describing the physiological phenomena observed in this case highlights the risks associated with unsupervised exhalatory breath-holding after hyperventilation as a training practice in competitive freediving.

Keywords: Breath-hold diving; Case reports; Hypoxia; Imaging; Lung; Pulmonary oedema; Unconsciousness.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Apnea / etiology
  • Breath Holding
  • Diving* / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pulmonary Edema* / etiology
  • Syncope