Dr. MJ Bazos MD, Patient Handout
Scuba Diving Safety
What is recreational scuba diving?
Recreational scuba diving is defined as pleasure diving to a depth of 130 feet without decompression stops.
Several scuba-certifying agencies offer training for divers, from beginners to experts. Three of the agencies are the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI) and Scuba Schools International (SSI). Basic classes involve classroom instruction and training in a pool and open water settings. The most popular courses last from 4 to 8 weeks.
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?
Remember: If you should develop any of the symptoms on this list during a dive or after a dive, you should get 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:
  1. 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.
  2. Never hold your breath while ascending. You should always ascend slowly while breathing normally.
  3. Become familiar with the underwater area and its dangers. Learn which fish, coral and other hazards to avoid so that injuries do not occur. Be aware of local tides and currents.
  4. 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.
  5. Never dive without a buddy.
  6. Always plan your dive, then always dive your plan.
  7. Always stay within the no-decompression limits.
  8. Be sure that your diving equipment can handle the dive you have planned and that the equipment is working well.
  9. Don't drink alcohol before diving.
  10. Never dive while taking medicine unless your doctor has said it's safe.
  11. Diving can be dangerous if you have certain medical problems. Ask your doctor how diving may affect your health.
  12. Cave diving is dangerous and should only be attempted by divers with proper training and equipment.
  13. If you don't feel well or if you are in pain after diving, go to the nearest emergency room immediately.
  14. 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.
What should I do in a diving emergency?
If you or one of your dive buddies has an accident while diving, or if you would like to discuss a potential diving-related health problem, call the Divers Alert Network (DAN) emergency telephone line (919-684-8111). DAN is located at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. Doctors, emergency medical technicians and nurses are available 24 hours a day to answer your questions. If needed, they will direct you to the nearest hyperbaric chamber or other appropriate medical facility.
What is a hyperbaric chamber?
A hyperbaric chamber is a facility where you are placed under increased pressure. It's similar to being underwater. This can often help injury from arterial gas embolism or decompression sickness by shrinking bubbles and allowing them to pass through your blood vessels.
DAN: www.diversalertnetwork.org

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