A diver calms himself as he equalises whilst descending © Shutterstock

The last sensation you want to feel when 20 metres below is a burning or pain in the upper part of your stomach. It’s a pain that makes moving around uncomfortable, takes the fun out of any situation, and potentially ruins a dive. Indigestion, the broad term given to such a feeling, is the topic of this week’s discussion with the experts – what it is, how to prevent it and how to treat it:

Diver Question: “Sometimes when I dive, I get terrible acid influx/reflux (Gastrointestinal Issues), why is this and how can I prevent it?”

DAN’s Advice

The Condition: “Reflux” is a backward flow of acid or food from the stomach into the oesophagus. Symptoms include burning upper abdominal or chest pain, sour taste or food regurgitation, which can happen when divers are in the head-down position.

Why it occurs?

The symptoms of reflux can be exacerbated by:

  • drinking alcohol
  • smoking
  • an ulcer or hiatal hernia
  • certain medications such as aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • a tight-fitting belt or wetsuit
  • head-low positioning


Physicians treat reflux with medications or through surgery in more severe cases.

However, you might not need any treatment at all. Indigestion often goes away on its own after a few hours. But let your doctor know if your symptoms get worse.

Any treatment you get will depend on what’s causing your indigestion. You can also do some things on your own to ease your symptoms:

  • Try not to chew with your mouth open, talk while you chew, or eat too fast. This makes you swallow too much air, which can add to indigestion.
  • Drink beverages after rather than during meals
  • Avoid late-night eating
  • Try to relax after meals
  • Avoid spicy foods
  • If you smoke, quit
  • Avoid alcohol

Fitness and Diving: While most people may experience occasional mild heartburn, if reflux of gastric contents occurs while one is diving, a diver could be at significant risk.

Aspirating food or acid into the lungs or into the regulator could be fatal, and individuals with significant reflux should not dive.

Given you described your reflex as ‘terrible’; you should arrange a consultation with your doctor as soon as possible. You may also achieve relief by actioning any of the above bullet points that apply to you.


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