Decompression Sickness: The Perils of Excessive Air Pressure
Adventure, thrill, and courage — these are the things that define scuba diving. Scuba stands for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. This this kind of diving is the act of swimming under water with the use of self-contained breathing equipment and oxygen tanks. By carrying a source of compressed air, a scuba diver is able to stay underwater for longer periodsof time using simple breath-holding techniques. Scuba diving enables individuals to explore deeper undersea, rather than a few meters under the surface. However, this form of diving also carries with it the risks that other sporting activities possess. Recent studies show that the chance of dying while scuba diving is somewhat higher than boxing and is almost 40 times higher than playing football or water-skiing.
Many of the dangers that this activity posses are associated with pressure. A condition called decompression sickness usually occurs among scuba divers. As a diver breathes air into his lungs at the pressure that resembles that of the depth of water, pressure on his body also increases. The pressure increases rapidly underwater with the pressure doubling every 30 feet. After inhaling from a scuba cylinder at 30 feet, the act of rising to the surface results in the expansion of air in the chest as the air pressure declines. Because of this, the expanding air will need to escape, normally from the mouth or nose, bubbling its way to the surface. If the air passages become closed, the air may not be able to escape and will expand within the lungs, this may cause the lungs to erupt and cause life-threatening consequences. Air can escape from the erupted lung into the chest cavity, escape into the blood vessels, and carry bubbles to the heart and brain, which can be very fatal. This condition may cause breathing difficulties, chest pain, and sometimes death. Some of the usual symptoms of decompression sickness may include joint pain (most common symptom and may last for days or weeks) extreme fatigue, numbness, light-headedness, and skin rash. Other symptoms may include weakness in the arms or legs, loss of consciousness, and chest pain.
To minimize the risk of decompression sickness, divers should do the following:
Dive and rise slowly in the water, and don’t stay at your deepest depth longer than recommended. Scuba divers typically use dive tables that show how long you can remain at a given depth.
Do not fly within 24 hours after diving.
Don’t drink alcohol before diving.
Avoid hot tubs, saunas, or hot baths after diving.
Make sure you are well hydrated, well rested, and physically prepared before you scuba dive. If you recently had a serious illness, injury or surgery, talk to your doctor before diving.
Certain individuals should avoid scuba diving because of the health risks they might encounter. People who have a defect, asthma, history of ruptured lung, or heart disease should ask the approval of doctors and other health specialists before deciding to dive. Individuals with groin hernia that has not been repaired should avoid scuba diving since expanding gas in the hernia may cause symptoms.
Maintaining blood pressure and administering oxygen are some of the regular treatment for emergency sickness associated with scuba diving. The primary remedy for decompression sickness is the use of a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. This chamber is a high-pressure chamber that allows the patient to receive 100% oxygen. This remedy can reverse the pressure changes that allowed gas bubbles to form. The chamber also helps drive nitrogen back to its liquid form, which is usually achieved in a couple of hours. Most cases of decompression sickness can be treated with hyperbaric oxygen. Doctors may suggest repeated treatments if symptoms of decompression sickness still remain.
Like other sports and hobbies, the dangers of scuba diving can be minimized if individuals will take the necessary safety measures. Individuals who want to engage in this activity should seek the approval of doctors to avoid other unwanted ailments from developing.