While it is true that SCUBA diving carries a certain amount of risk, many of the problems that arise during dives can be connected to simple human error. That is why it is crucial that you are meticulous in your pre-dive gear checks, plan discussion, and basic safety procedures — your buddy’s and your own safety depends on it.
Common injuries that occur can generally be prevented by paying close attention to your body both above and below the surface. Wellness and health play a huge role in your diving safety; if, for any reason, you are having reservations about the dive, just don’t do it. Minor discomforts and health issues have the potential to become life-threatening underwater, so before you even get in the water, be sure your gear is comfortable and you feel good about the dive. Here are 5 common SCUBA-related injuries and how you can avoid them for good.
Mask squeeze is a fairly common injury for new divers, who aren’t yet familiar with how all their gear is supposed to feel. It is caused by failure to equalize the pressure in your mask as you descend, much like you equalize the pressure in your ears. As the pressure becomes greater, the space between your face and mask will begin to shrink, increasing the pressure on the blood vessels in your face. This can cause varying degrees of facial barotrauma, which manifests in swollen blood vessels in the skin around the eyes and nose, as well as in the eye itself. All you need to do to prevent mask squeeze is to remember to exhale through your nose often while descending to keep the air pressure equalized inside your mask.
Decompression sickness (DCS), or “the bends,” is on every diver’s radar as the thing you do not want to mess with. DCS is caused by dissolved gases in the bloodstream coming out of the blood as bubbles too quickly during ascent, similar to how a pressurized soda bottle will fizz wildly if the cap is removed quickly. These bubbles become trapped in various places in the body, creating a laundry list of ailments, ranging from mildly uncomfortable to life-threatening. However, if the gas is allowed time to slowly dissolve from the bloodstream, there should be no cause for concern. This can be accomplished easily by adhering to your dive plan and decompression limits. Some divers thrust themselves unnecessarily into a DCS situation because they are not monitoring their air consumption, and realize too late they have less air than they need to perform decompression stops. Be a conscientious diver, frequently check your gauges, and always err on the side of safety to avoid DCS.
Ear barotrauma is another common ailment for new divers, who may not be aware that even the slightest pressure can be damaging to your delicate inner ear organs. You should never continue to descend if you cannot equalize both ears! Continuing pressure on these parts can result in permanent ear damage — a consequence that is certainly not worth a single dive. If you are congested or are having cold/allergy/sinus issues prior to a dive, it’s best to postpone and treat your symptoms first. As you descend, equalize the pressure in your ears every few feet by pinching your nose and exhaling gently, until you feel a pop and a relief of pressure. Check out these other equalization techniques as well.
New and experienced divers alike can fall victim to hypothermia, even in warm waters. Hypothermia sets in when your core body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, which happens at a rate up to 26 times faster than in open air of the same temperature. Hypothermia is a very serious condition for divers, as the main symptoms are slowed reflexes, decreased heart, respiratory, and metabolic rate, impaired thinking, and loss of mobility. How many of those systems do you need to dive? All of them. Even if you’re diving in tropical locations, a skin or a thin exposure suit can help keep your precious body heat trapped next to your skin, where it belongs. If you are in full dive gear and are still shivering or your limbs are stiffening up, please do not hesitate to call the dive. Get out, get warm, get hydrated.
Carotid Sinus Reflex
And finally, carotid sinus reflex is not as common as the others, but is worth noting since any diver could fall victim to it. This condition occurs when too much pressure is placed on the carotid arteries, which run up either side of your neck from your heart to your brain. These arteries are crucial to our survival, as they carry oxygen, nutrients, and blood to the brain, which controls the entire body’s functions. When high pressure is placed on these arteries, the brain receives a message that the blood pressure is unusually high, causing it to slow the heart. If your heart slows, the rate at which your brain is receiving the substance it needs to function also slows, resulting in loss of consciousness. So how does SCUBA play into this scenario? Hoods, wetsuits, and dry suit seals that are too tight can all lead to carotid sinus reflex. If you feel light-headed or even a little too constricted, you should enlarge these openings if at all possible.
Top image via MattC.