SCUBA is short for "Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus." Scuba divers, while underwater, breathe through a mouthpiece that is attached to a tank of compressed air. Scuba diving is defined as pleasure diving to a depth of 130 feet.
Several scuba-certifying agencies offer training for divers, from beginners to experts. Three agencies that offer certification courses are the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI) and Scuba Schools International (SSI). Basic courses involve classroom instruction, training pools and open-water settings. Diving certification, which allows you to rent equipment, request tanks to be re-filled and dive without supervision, can be attained in as little as five open-water dives. Most scuba-certifying agencies highly recommend you dive in a "buddy system" (a group of 2 or 3 divers).
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.
Remember: If you should develop any of the symptoms on this list during or after a dive, seek medical care immediately.
Fortunately, serious medical problems are not common in recreational scuba divers. While there are millions of dives each year in the United 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.
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:
If you or one of your dive buddies has an accident while diving, call the Divers Alert Network (DAN) emergency telephone line (919-684-9111). 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. If you would like to discuss a potential diving-related health problem, contact the non-emergency Divers Alert Network telephone line (800-446-2671).
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.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff