Scuba diving is a risky activity whether it’s done as a sport or a hobby. The risks are not just due to possible failure of the underwater safety equipment but also due to extreme underwater pressure and changes in pressure during descent or ascent.
So, before you suit up or learn to dive for the first time, take a moment to understand of the safety risks. But don’t let this scare you away from diving – just be responsible out there to stay safe.
Middle ear damage. One of the common injuries divers suffer from is middle ear damage caused by too much external pressure that is not equalized in the middle ear. The middle ear is a hollow region and is susceptible to sudden changes in the external pressure. This is why divers pinch their noses and swallow to push more air into the middle ear. But this technique may not work when the dive is too rapid. Symptoms of barotrauma-induced middle ear damage include vertigo, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), and hearing loss.
Bends (decompression sickness). When go deeper into the water, you subject your body to increasing ambient pressure, and this affects the gases inside your body. Your tissues tend to absorb more nitrogen at extreme ambient pressure. As you ascend, the pressure decreases, and your body slowly releases nitrogen. However, something peculiar happens when a diver ascends rapidly. The excess nitrogen is not released safely out of the body and forms bubbles inside your tissues, causing joint pain and sometimes death. Also, too much build-up of nitrogen in the body can impair cognitive functions (nitrogen narcosis).
Lung damage. This is another danger related to pressure changes during descent and ascent. Deep divers breathe in denser air. The dense air is necessary to equalize the pressure in your lungs with the surrounding pressure in the deep water. Rapid ascent can cause the dense air in the lungs to expand. Barotraumas also result in embolisms. When the air in the lungs expands rapidly, air bubbles leak into the bloodstream and may plug small blood vessels, which could be a potentially life-threatening situation. Divers avoid this by ascending slowly and making sure they are adjusting the pressure of the air in their self-contained underwater breathing apparatus.
Oxygen toxicity. Nitrogen is not the only problem with deep diving. Another potentially dangerous gas is oxygen. You need oxygen but only up to a certain amount. The problem with deep diving is you tend to inhale more oxygen than necessary, and your body tends to absorb more oxygen than necessary as well. High levels of oxygen in your body has toxic effects with symptoms like nausea and twitching–and in extreme cases, loss of consciousness.
Drowning. This is an obvious risk, although trained divers are supposed to prevent this. The usual cause of drowning for divers is faulty equipment. Thus, divers have to inspect their gear before and after a dive to check for defects.
Hypothermia. This is sometimes overlooked. But diving in cold waters can result in your body temperature falling below normal. This happens when you’re wearing an inappropriate or defective gear.