While there is considerable controversy about the term Shallow Water Blackout due to the fact that it can happen at any depth of water our Foundation will continue to refer to it for the time being. However, we recognize that other organizations refer to it as a hypoxic blackout, underwater blackout, or underwater faint, and we totally repect the use of these terms.
Shallow Water Blackout (SWB) is a loss of consciousness caused by cerebral hypoxia toward the end of a prolonged breath-hold submersion under water. It can be caused by taking several very deep breaths, or hyperventilating (see below) just before submerging under water. Because hyperventilation reduces the normal amount of the body’s carbon dioxide it does not surpass the normal CO2 threshold (the body’s signal to breathe) the brain does not experience an urgent need to breathe; therefore, the brain passes out due to a lack of sufficient oxygen. The brain’s natural reflex is to then take a breath, which causes the swimmer to drown.
BLACKOUTS FROM O2 DEPRIVATION IN SHALLOW WATER CAN OCCUR IN 4 CONDITIONS:
Unexplained blackouts underwater have been associated with the practice of hyperventilation. Survivors of shallow water blackouts often report using hyperventilation as a technique to increase the time they can spend underwater. Hyperventilation, or over-breathing, involves breathing faster and/or deeper than the body naturally demands and is often used by divers in the mistaken belief that this will increase oxygen (O2) saturation. Although this appears true intuitively, under normal circumstances the breathing rate dictated by the body alone already leads to 98-99% oxygen saturation of the arterial blood and the effect of over-breathing on the oxygen intake is minor. What is really happening differs from divers' understanding; these divers are extending their dive by closing down the body's natural breathing mechanism, not by increasing oxygen load. The mechanism is as follows:
The primary urge to breathe is triggered by rising carbon dioxide(CO2) levels in the bloodstream.CO2 builds up in the bloodstream when O2 is metabolized and it needs to be expelled as a waste product. The body detects CO2 levels very accurately and relies on this to control breathing. Hyperventilation artificially depletes this (CO2) causing a low blood carbon dioxide condition called hypocapnia. Hypocapnia reduces the reflexive respiratory drive, allows the delay of breathing and leaves the diver susceptible to loss of consciousness from hypoxia. For most healthy people the first sign of low O2 is a greyoutor unconsciousness: there is no bodily sensation that warns a diver of an impending blackout.