So today David Blaine went on Oprah and broke the world record for underwater breath holding. 17 minutes and 4 seconds. He prepped by breathing pure oxygen for almost a half-hour beforehand.
Pretty amazing. But, not surprisingly, our aquatic safety experts tell me it’s also really really dangerous!
Apparently some people try to do this stunt by purposefully hyperventilating beforehand. But that’s even more dangerous than what Blaine did. They mistakenly think that by taking a series of deep breaths in rapid succession and forcefully exhaling, they can increase the amount of oxygen they breathe, allowing them to hold their breath longer underwater. This is not true. Instead, it lowers the carbon dioxide level in the body. Even highly skilled swimmers can die from this practice. The level of carbon dioxide in the blood is what signals a person to breathe.
When a person hyperventilates and then swims underwater, the oxygen level in the blood can drop to a point where the swimmer passes out before the body knows it is time to breathe. Then, when the unconscious person finally does take a breath instinctively, water rushes in, laryngospasm (a spasm of the vocal cords which blocks the airway to keep fluid or food out of the airway) occurs and the drowning process begins.
Bottom line: Don’t Try This At Home. (Or anywhere else.)
(photo via Reuters)