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Scuba Diving Holds Hidden Dangers

Be careful down there, if you want to avoid a host of woes

(HealthDay is the new name for HealthScoutNews.)

SATURDAY, Aug. 23, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Scuba diving offers loads of underwater pleasure, but only if you're adequately prepared and trained.

The sport has a number of medical problems associated with it that range from minor ear and sinus irritations to paralysis and even death.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), the most common medical problems associated with scuba diving are simple middle ear "squeezes." This is ear pain caused by pressure differences between the ear and the outside environment as you descend.

Also common, the AAFP says, are cuts and scrapes from brushing up against fish, coral or pieces of an underwater shipwreck.

Less common but much more serious are the infamous "bends," the decompression sickness that usually occurs when you ascend to the surface too quickly, as well as more serious ear and pulmonary conditions. Some divers have even been known to develop embolisms or blood clots.

Whether you're in it for a weekend or a lifetime, the best way to avoid trouble while scuba diving is to have proper training.

The Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI) and Scuba Schools International (SSI) offer courses all over the globe. Full certification requires several weeks of training including sessions in the classroom and underwater.

The AAFP has these additional tips for safe diving:

  • Gently equalize your ears and mask as you descend.
  • Never hold your breath while ascending. Always ascend slowly while breathing normally.
  • Always dive with a buddy.
  • Never drink alcohol before a dive.
  • If you're taking medication, check with a doctor before diving.
  • Also consult your doctor if you have any medical conditions.
  • Don't fly for 12 hours after a no-decompression dive, 24 hours if your dive required decompression stops.
  • If you don't feel well or are in any kind of pain after your dive, get to the nearest emergency room.

More information

The Divers Alert Network has more insight into safety issues.

SOURCE: American Academy of Family Physicians
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