Can You Get the Bends from Snorkeling?

Last Updated: March 15, 2023

Snorkeling is a priceless exploit where you get to experience what happens below the ocean surface. The joy of a snorkeler is to glide on the water while observing the beautiful underwater wildlife.

If you have done scuba diving before, chances are that you’re all too familiar with a phenomenon called “the bends.” This simply refers to decompression sickness – a condition typically attributed to the buildup of nitrogen bubbles all over the body.

Should you be worried about getting the bends from snorkeling? You should not be worried because it can only develop when one breathes compressed air and resurfaces too fast. Snorkelers don’t breathe compressed air, unlike scuba divers.

Let me break down the facts for you.

What Are the Bends?

the bends in diving

“The bends” is a sickness that is also known as the Caisson sickness, Divers’ Disease, or simply Decompression sickness (DCS). You get the condition if you experience a sudden decrease of pressure when in air or water.

When you are in deep waters for long hours you have to rely on diving tanks that contain compressed air. One thing you need to keep in mind is that the pressure on your tank increases as you dive deeper. This forces you to inhale more air particles per cycle than usual.

Normal air comprises 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen, though your body only needs oxygen. With the body being forced to inhale more-than-usual air particles per inhalation, it might end up accumulating nitrogen.

The body releases the nitrogen air when you start to ascend as the water pressure decreases. A rapid ascent from a deep level forms bubbles in your joints and other body organs.

Find out more about the bends and how to prevent it here.

To avoid decompression illness, tyou need to take deep breaths, and ascend slowly to be able to release the excess nitrogen gradually. You will also release the pressure slowly.

Does Decompression Sickness Affect Snorkelers?

No, decompression sickness does not normally affect snorkelers.

In case you duck dive or free dive, you are still unlikely to get the disease. Freedivers hold their breath, retaining the air drawn in while on the surface.

Snorkelers that duck dive can ascend rapidly and not get DCS. When snorkeling you do not also use a tank to breathe like scuba divers. In such circumstances, the body is unlikely to experience a nitrogen build-up.

Can a Snorkeler Get the Bends?

No, a snorkeler cannot get the bends. The condition is common amongst scuba divers.

The bends only happen when a diver ascends suddenly from deep water levels, breathing from a diving tank. The rapid ascent causes a nitrogen build-up in the body.

In most cases, snorkelers swim near the surface where the tube can draw air at regular pressure. In such conditions, the risk of air compression is virtually non-existent as you’re breathing directly from the environment above you.

Regardless, there are unique cases where a snorkeler can get the decompression sickness. It has happened to some snorkelers.

If you over-exert physically, you may take in more air. In the process, you might breathe in excess nitrogen causing DCS.

You can also get the bends if you ascend repeatedly without taking any safety breaks. Or in case you take alcohol soon after exiting from the waters. Alcohol decreases blood circulation and reduces the exit of any excess nitrogen in your body.

In the event that you use a mini-scuba tank to snorkel, and then exit from the deeper water rapidly, you are also likely to breathe excess nitrogen from the cylinder.

For safety reasons, it is recommended a snorkeler ascends at a speed of nine meters per hour. It is also good to take breaks as you ascend, and avoid alcohol for at least an hour after snorkeling.

How Deep is it Safe to Snorkel?

If you dive deep into the sea breathing through a dive tank, that is when you are most likely to get the bends.

Fortunately, most snorkelers swim near the surface and through a simple j-tube that draws uncompressed air directly from the environment above.

That said, depth is still an important factor to consider. In general, most snorkelers dive between 3 to 5 meters which isn’t really that deep.

This allows you to see the underwater world up close. Likely, it’s the closest many people get in their lives to seeing sea turtles in their natural habitat or being surrounded by hundreds of tropical fish.

Unless you are wearing a breathing tank, the probability of experiencing the bends at such depths is virtually non-existent.

The only exception is when you wear a diving tank and dive well beyond 3 meters. The longer you take in that state, the higher the chances of you getting the bends, especially if you happen to resurface a little too fast.

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