Just as with any other sport, when participating in scuba diving, you do run the risk of injury. This is namely from the effects of pressure on your body at depth. Before ever jumping off the boat, one should be educated on the associated risks, how to minimize any predisposing factors and the proper steps to follow should an emergency occur. A good certification for all divers to earn is Rescue Diver, which teaches the fundamentals of first aid, CPR, oxygen administration, along with proper rescue techniques. Learn to be a safe and prepared diver before hitting the water and your payoff will be a fun and enjoyable dive for everyone. NAUI stresses this infamous saying among divers: “Plan your dive; dive your plan. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

Associated Risks:

  • Air Overexpansion Injuries: The number one rule of scuba diving is never to hold your breath. As you are diving, you are breathing compressed air at depth, or an increased pressure than when you are on the surface. Overexpansion injuries result due to Boyle’s Law. Boyle’s Law defines the inverse relationship between volume and pressure, or in other words, states that as the value of one increases the other decreases. A famous example of this used in all beginning scuba classes involves a diver who takes a balloon with them while diving. For every 33 feet the diver ascends, they are under one more atmosphere of pressure. This comes into play with Boyle’s Law in the following manner: Should you ascend to 33 feet, you have now doubled the amount of pressure on you and the balloon, thus the volume of all your air spaces (sinus, ears, lungs, air in your BC and wetsuit) and that in the balloon have been reduced by ½. Go to 66 feet and you are now under three atmospheres of pressure, thus reducing the air of all air spaces by 1/3. Should you panic or need to make an emergency ascent, it is very important that you blow a small, steady stream of bubbles as long as you can. If you forget to do so, the air will expand in your lungs, possibly to the point of an embolism, or block of air in the bloodstream, or ruptured tissue. Don’t hold you breath because you are afraid you will run out of air before reaching the surface. During your ascent, the air in your lungs expands, as your depth (pressure) is decreasing, thus your air (volume) is increasing, so your breath will last longer than you expect. Emergency ascents are rare and should an out of air emergency occur, you would first try to use your octopus or buddy breathing. Make an emergency ascent as a last resort.
  • Wikipedia article on Air Embolisms

  • Decompression Sickness: As a diver, one of the first things you will learn is to follow the proper ascent rate of 30 feet per minute, or one foot every two seconds, upon surfacing from your dive. Should you ascend faster, you run the risk of decompression sickness. Decompression sickness, commonly referred to as “the bends,” among divers, occurs when the nitrogen that accumulates in your tissues and blood while breathing compressed air, form bubbles when forced to come out of solution too rapidly. DCS occurs as a result of Henry’s Law. Henry's Law states that at a constant temperature, the amount of a given gas dissolved in a given type and volume of liquid is directly proportional to the partial pressure of that gas in equilibrium with that liquid, according to Wikipedia.org. An everyday example to better understand Henry’s Law is as simple as opening up a bottle of soda. Just think of the soda as your body and the gas bubbles as the nitrogen trying to escape during your ascent. Predisposing factors that increase one’s chance of getting DCS include repetitive exposures, rate of ascent, age, previous injury, ambient temperature, body type (although fat represents only 15 percent of a normal adult body, it stores over half of the total amount of nitrogen (about 1 liter) normally dissolved in the body, exercise, rate of air consumption, alcohol consumption prior to diving and dehydration. Should the nitrogen form bubbles, clots can form blocking the circulation to your skin, joints and your vital organs, including your lungs and brain. Symptoms depend on where the blockage forms, but can range from a skin rash, joint pain, shortness of breath, confusion, paralysis, even death. Should you suspect DCS, the victim should immediately be put on emergency oxygen and transported to the nearest medical facility with a hyperbaric chamber.
  • Wikipedia article on DCS

  • Nitrogen Narcosis: Nitrogen at depth can have another effect on your body referred to as Nitrogen Narcosis. Jacques Cousteau referred to it as “the rapture of the deep,” and divers today most commonly call the sensation being “narced.” At depths usually past 80 feet, divers may experience a feeling of intoxication, which can affect their judgment and physical ability. In more serious cases, divers may experience numbness, tingling, vertigo, panic, exhaustion, anxiety, or even euphoria. A commonly cited anecdote tells the tale of a diver who took his regulator out of his mouth and offered it to a fish. Though the exact reason behind why nitrogen narcosis occurs is not really understood, it is believed to be the effects of high nitrogen pressure on our nerve transmissions. Furthermore, the faster and more vertical a diver’s descent is plays into the equation, as it doesn’t give the nitrogen as long to dissolve in one’s blood as a slower, flatter descent rate would. Other factors that can predispose a diver to becoming narced include cold, stress, heavy work, fatigue and carbon dioxide retention .Fortunately nitrogen narcosis has no lasting physical effects on a diver and relief from its symptoms are as simple as ascending until they disappear.
  • Wikipedia article on Nitrogen Narcosis

Information found in the NAUI Scuba Diver Manual and Wikipedia.org