What are the most common problems of scuba diving?
The most common medical problems are simple middle ear "squeezes." Squeezes cause pain in your ears. The pain is caused by the difference in pressure between the air spaces of your ears and mask and higher water pressure as you go deeper into the water. Squeezes that affect the inner ear or sinuses are less common.
Cuts, scrapes and other injuries to the arms and legs can be caused by contact with fish and other marine animals, certain species of coral and hazards such as exposed sharp metal on wrecks or fishing line.
What dangerous medical conditions are possible when I am diving?
- Inner ear barotrauma. This condition may happen if you have trouble clearing during a dive. The result is severe dizziness and hearing loss.
- Pulmonary barotrauma. This condition is the result of improper breathing during the ascent to the surface or, occasionally, from diving with a respiratory tract infection. Symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath and hoarseness.
- Arterial gas embolism (AGE). This is a type of pulmonary barotrauma in which bubbles enter the circulation and travel to the brain. Symptoms such as numbness or tingling of the skin, weakness, paralysis or loss of consciousness may occur. This is a serious diving injury.
- Decompression sickness ("the bends"). This condition occurs during ascent and on the surface of the water. Inert nitrogen gas that is dissolved in body tissues and blood comes out of solution and forms bubbles in the blood. The bubbles can injure various body tissues and block blood vessels. The most common signs of severe decompression sickness are dysfunction of the spinal cord, brain and lungs.
Remember: If you should develop any of the symptoms on this list during or after a dive, seek medical care immediately.
How common are medical problems in scuba diving?
Fortunately, serious medical problems are not common in recreational scuba divers. While there are millions of dives each year in the Unites States, only about 90 deaths are reported each year worldwide. In addition, fewer than 1,000 divers worldwide require recompression therapy to treat severe dive-related health problems.
How can I lower my risk of medical problems?
Most severe dive-related injuries and deaths happen in beginning divers. To be safe, always dive within the limits of your experience and level of training. Good rules to follow for safe diving include:
- Never try a dive you're not comfortable with. During descent, you should gently equalize your ears and mask. At depth, never dive outside the parameters of the dive tables or your dive computer.
- Never hold your breath while ascending. You should always ascend slowly while breathing normally.
- Become familiar with the underwater area and its dangers. Learn which fish, coral and other hazards to avoid so injuries do not occur. Be aware of local tides and currents.
- Never panic under water. If you become confused or afraid during a dive, stop, try to relax and think the problem through. You can also get help from your dive buddy or dive master.
- Never dive without a buddy.
- Always plan your dive; then always dive your plan.
- Always stay within the no-decompression limits.
- Be sure that your diving equipment can handle the dive you have planned and that the equipment is working well.
- Don't drink alcohol before diving.
- Never dive while taking medicine unless your doctor has said it's safe.
- Diving can be dangerous if you have certain medical problems. Ask your doctor how diving may affect your health.
- Cave diving is dangerous and should only be attempted by divers with proper training and equipment.
- If you don't feel good or if you are in pain after diving, go to the nearest emergency room immediately.
- Don't fly for 12 hours after a no-decompression dive, even in a pressurized airplane. If your dive required decompression stops, don't fly for at least 24 hours.