Want to Try Scuba Diving? Avoid Injury — Here’s How

3 injury prevention tips

Contributor: Ann Marie McMullin, MD

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Thinking of trying to scuba dive? It’s great exercise but also, there are some health risks to consider. Even simple actions like coughing or vomiting can be fatal underwater. So before you take your first plunge, here are a few things to consider.

1. Make sure you’re in good enough shape

Scuba diving is vigorous exercise — from hauling the 35 pounds of breathing apparatus on land, to swimming in difficult currents.

Heart disease, or any other condition that affects exercise tolerance can put you at risk of an underwater crises. So, for that matter, can neurological disorders, seizures, hypoglycemia, or other conditions.

2. Consider how being underwater stresses the body

Most reputable diving instructors and schools require a medical statement from prospective divers.

But that “doctor’s note” only testifies to your health before you get in the water. Once you dive, you subject your body to stresses that dry land mammals are not naturally equipped to handle.

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Here are potential problems unique to diving:

Barotrauma is the name given to injuries caused by the pressure differential between gasses trapped inside your body, and the water without. It can occur even at shallow depths, if you ascend too quickly.

“Ear squeeze” or middle-ear barotrauma is caused when you cannot clear the air-filled spaces around the ear drum. As you ascend, air trapped in the middle ear can blow out the ear-drum, or cause it to hemorrhage. The result can be ear pain, vertigo, tinnitus or hearing loss. Pressure changes can pop the fillings from your teeth, or burst your lungs, ears or digestive organs.

“The bends” have always been a problem for divers. When you’ve been underwater at great depths for a long period of time and ascend too quickly, tiny nitrogen bubbles are evoked in the blood; consciousness may falter; your limbs may become useless; consequences from acute psychosis to death can even result.

When a diver holding a huge lungful of breath ascends too rapidly, the wall of an air sac in the lungs may rupture, admitting air into the bloodstream. It takes only a tiny amount of air to trigger a fatal heart arrhythmia or heart attack.

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3. Take special precautions before you dive

If you’re diving, remember:

  • Assess your health prior to each dive. If you need medications in order to dive — don’t.
  • Don’t fly less than 24 hours after a dive. Flying, with its air pressure changes, may worsen a condition you currently aren’t aware of.
  • Do not dive until the symptoms of a previous injury are resolved, and you have your doctors’ clearance.

None of this is to imply that scuba diving in more dangerous than many everyday activities (divers like to remind you that most non-fatal scuba diving injuries take place on the boat, prior to leaving the dock).

But by plunging the body into an environment to which it is not adapted, scuba diving requires careful preparation.

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