If you’re new to diving, chances are good you have been warned about all the potential ailments and injuries that can come with your newfound hobby. While decompression sickness probably registers the highest on SCUBA newbies’ radar as something to avoid, a far more common condition — but every bit as serious — is hypothermia.
But you’re probably headed to tropical waters for your dive vacation, right? When most people think about hypothermia, they think of long-term exposure to cold weather or cold water. However, temperatures do not have to be as low as most people assume to develop symptoms of hypothermia. Hypothermia in warm water can indeed happen to anyone, so it is important that you are aware of the conditions that create hypothermia and its symptoms so you can act quickly. Here are the most commonly asked questions we get about hypothermia in warm water.
What is Hypothermia?
First things first: the concept of hypothermia is simple. When a person’s body cannot generate sufficient heat to operate its various functions, he or she will begin to experience characteristic effects that signal the body’s attempts to save your most vital organs, including numbness, dizziness, disorientation, and loss of motor skills. Some medical conditions can cause or accelerate hypothermia; the ambient temperature does not have to be especially low. Since virtually all diving takes place in waters that are below our body’s natural temperature, developing hypothermia in warm water can happen much faster than you’d expect.
Why are Divers at Risk?
Water is far more efficient at warming and cooling us than air — you can lose body heat underwater up to 26 times faster than on land! Because of this, divers’ bodies are particularly at risk of becoming hypothermic if they do not wear proper exposure protection. Just as you wouldn’t head to the slopes without snow pants even on an exceptionally sunny day, nor should you proceed on a dive without at least a skin in warm, tropical locations. Although it is somewhat rare to develop symptoms of severe hypothermia while diving in relatively warm water, mild symptoms are not at all uncommon. It is important that divers are aware of their body’s condition and prepared to call the dive if necessary.
How Do I Know if I’m Suffering from Hypothermia?
The symptoms of mild hypothermia tend to be fairly general. Confusion is a common symptom, difficulty with motor control, and constant shivering as well. Many divers who experience these symptoms fail to realize that they are signs of hypothermia and may continue diving, expecting their symptoms will pass. It is important to surface in a quick but safe manner if you are experiencing any symptoms at all.
Many divers who begin experiencing hypothermia in warm water don’t even notice until they surface and get back on the boat. It is important to be aware of your physical and mental condition while diving; don’t take any risks. If you are experiencing any symptoms that could be caused by hypothermia, return to the surface, dry off and insulate yourself to increase your body’s temperature.
Images via Google Images, bocatc.org