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Why You Should Never Hold Your Breath While Scuba Diving? + 5 Dive Master Tips to Avoid It

That first deep inhale of crisp tank air. The excitement of sinking below the surface into the vivid underwater world. It’s no wonder scuba diving gets so many hooked with its promise of weightless adventure.

But before you get distracted by technicolor coral and gliding sea turtles, heed this critical warning – no matter how at home you feel underwater, never hold your breath while scuba diving! Holding your breath while scuba diving goes against basic safety principles taught in every open water certification course.

I know, it seems harmless enough. Just a natural impulse when engrossed by some mesmerizing scene. But suppressing that urge could save your life and health.

Here’s the inside scoop from a divemaster with 1000+ subaquatic adventures under his weight belt on exactly why holding your breath while scuba diving can get you in hot water. Take it from me – no underwater sight is worth risking your safety over.

Why Our Instincts Fail Us Underwater

You might be wondering why such a commonplace act like holding your breath causes issues 30 feet down. Don’t our bodies thrive on adapting?

True, but the underwater environment throws our human physiology a curveball. Breathing compressed air through regulators while contending with pressure changes and buoyancy control demands new reflexes.

Topside, holding our breath is harmless – just another way to sync respiration to activity. But submerged, this autonomic response threatens injury or worse.

The mechanisms play out silently and insidiously. A fleeting pause in breathing here, an unconscious halt in air intake there. No drama or distress cues – until the damage is done.

That’s why rigorous training to override instincts with continuous breathing topside and down is so critical. Your life depends on refusing the urge, with no exceptions.

How Breath-Holding Underwater Hurts Your Health

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of how holding your breath while submerged derails your physiology:

Forgoing even a few breaths underwater allows carbon dioxide to accumulate rapidly. This CO2 buildup spikes respiratory drive. Sound harmless? Consider that just a small rise from 5% to 7% CO2 gas concentration makes your breaths feel literally suffocating. This condition has a fancy medical term too- Hypercapnia.

By the time your starved lungs finally gasp that awaited breath, you could already suffer tunnel vision, seizures, or complete blackout. And don’t forget, those air-deprived seconds also leave you powerless to control buoyancy.

Yet another unseen threat lurks – expanded lung capacity from air trapped by breath holding. Just a 33-foot ascent could rupture alveoli and unleash air bubbles into your chest cavity or bloodstream.

Talk about the ultimate buzzkill having to abort your dive trip early for emergency treatment of a “burst lung”.

The bottom line – the ocean is no place to stop the flow. Keep air moving through your body steadily no matter how normal pausing breath seems.

What Triggers That Urge to Not Breathe?

Alright, you get why holding your breath spells trouble underwater. But what causes our instincts to temporarily override training in the first place?

  1. For some, the deafening silence when first submerging triggers an involuntary attempt to conserve air. It can feel alarming until you acclimate to breathing underwater.
  2. Others reflexively halt when experiencing mild gear issues like errant drips or bubbles from the regulator. They tense up awaiting the “problem” to pass.
  3. Familiarity breeds contempt too. Ten or twenty uneventful dives down often lead to complacency. You forget the rules don’t change just because it feels routine.
  4. Most worrisome, many breathholders admit they simply got distracted by amazing sights, such as sea turtle ballet or jelly wonderland. They forgot to maintain discipline.

While the triggers differ, the solution is the same – refuse to give in, ever. Stay focused on each breath no matter what underwater magic has you spellbound.

But What About Skip Breathing?

Some divers may be tempted to try to skip breathing to conserve tank air while underwater. This involves taking a few breaths and then holding for a period before resuming breathing.

However, this practice can be equally dangerous while scuba diving. Holding your breath, even briefly between breaths, still allows CO2 buildup and the possibility of lung over-expansion injuries on ascent.

The urge to breathe after a hold may also cause rapid uncontrolled inhalations. Additionally, spacing out breaths decreases oxygen absorption. For all these reasons, stick to slow, steady, continuous breathing without pauses or holds when diving. The marine life viewing will be just as spectacular without playing games or trying to economize on respiration!

5 Safe Scuba Strategies to Never Hold Your Breath

Now let’s get tactical. Here are my best tips as an experienced divemaster for wiring continuous breathing into your muscle memory:

1. Master Regulator Rhythms Before Setting Fins in the Sea

Practice breathing underwater without distractions or sights in confined spaces like pools first. Get your gear dialed so it feels natural. Kicking mindlessly for laps while breathing should become effortless.

2. Analyze Air Intake Frequently

Periodically check the rate and depth of your breathing throughout a dive. Adjust as needed to keep it smooth and steady. A quick pulse check on respiration keeps you honest.

3. Add Biofeedback Tools

Does tech tempt you? Add a CO2 sensor to your console giving real-time feedback on breathing quality. Takes guessing work out and keeps your levels ideal.

4. Design Safety Drills Around Breathing

When reviewing mask clearing or regulator recovery skills with your buddy, focus on inhaling and exhaling continuously throughout. This ingrains breathing as part of reacting properly.

5. Pick Regulators That Make It Easy

Invest in a quality regulator fitted with enhancements like venturi assist or pneumatic balancing. Features that amplify airflow minimize the work and discomfort of breathing underwater.

Set yourself up for victory by making continuous breathing second nature through deliberate practice and smart gear choices. Soon you’ll be an underwater respiration master!

Emergencies Still Happen – How to Respond

Despite our best efforts, an unplanned breath hold can still blindside us if distracted underwater. Don’t panic! Just slowly ascend a few feet while continuously exhaling to vent excess CO2. Signal your buddy you have an issue. Regain composure and resume normal breathing.

Make sure to analyze why it happened later so you can adjust any contributing gear factors or personal habits. Above all, avoid blaming yourself over an instinctive response to odd situations – just take corrective actions.

No one manages perfect breathing every single dive. Mastery takes patience. But knowledge is power – now that you understand the physiology behind breathing underwater, you can make it second nature.

Soon you’ll be too enthralled by underwater marvels to waste mental energy on respiration mechanics. Cruise weightlessly through inner space while oxygen flows unconsciously. Simply focus on the magic, and leave the breathing to your body where it belongs.

Just remember – when surrounded by underwater splendor, don’t hold your breath even for a second! Keep that life-giving air moving steadily so you return to the surface with memories to share, not medical bills to pay. Here’s to many more happy, healthy dives!

William Dupre

William Dupre

Retired Master Diver with 20+ years of experience and 2100+ logged dives. Presently, spending my time blogging about Diving and checking off locations one by one from my bucket list of dive destinations.

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