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Scuba diving can expose you to high waves and dangerous sea life. But the more likely dangers are those you can't see. You can be injured if your body isn't able to adjust to the increasing and decreasing pressure of the water as you breathe compressed air. Pressure changes can cause injuries when you drop down into the water (descend) and come back up (ascend).
Scuba injuries may be mild. But in some cases, they can cause serious problems or even death.
There are three kinds of injuries from pressure changes when diving:
Symptoms of scuba diving injuries can appear throughout your body. Some are mild, while others are more serious and need treatment right away.
Mild symptoms can include:
Severe symptoms can include:
Symptoms can show up right after you come to the surface. Or they may not appear for several hours, especially if you fly in an airplane too soon after diving.
Get emergency help if you have any symptoms of scuba injuries, even if they seem minor. It's easy to ignore joint pain and explain it away. But it could be a sign of illness. Sometimes the symptoms go away, but they can come back and get worse.
The main treatment for decompression sickness is time in a hyperbaric chamber. In the chamber, you're exposed to increasing air pressure, which is like the high pressure underwater. The pressure is then slowly reduced, as though you're coming up from underwater. Treatment in a chamber usually works best if it's done within 24 hours after the dive.
Most divers who have decompression sickness also get pure oxygen right away after they have symptoms.
If you have a barotrauma injury, treatment depends on what part of your body has been injured. For example, if you have a broken eardrum, you may be given antibiotics while your eardrum heals. Depending on your injury, you also might get nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroids to help reduce swelling in your joints and tissues.
Nitrogen narcosis gets better on its own when you reach the surface.
The best way to prevent scuba diving injuries is to make sure that you have proper training and are healthy enough to dive. In diving classes, you also will learn how to clear your ears to prevent pain and injury as you descend. Diving instructors can tell you how to use dive tables or computers that show how fast you should ascend and how many stops you should make while ascending.
Air travel too soon after diving can increase the risk of decompression sickness. The time you need to wait to fly depends on how much time has passed between your last dive and flying, and on how many dives you have made over a certain amount of time.
Look at your dive manual to find out how long you need to wait before you fly.
You need to wait at least 18 hours or more if you made several dives a day or you dove for several days.
March 27, 2013
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & W. David Colby IV, MSc, MD, FRCPC - Infectious Disease
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