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FAQs - Scuba Health and Safety Questions

Can I dive with a pre-existing health condition?

If you have any concerns about your health prior to diving, consult your doctor. There are some identifiable health conditions that may present a danger, risk of injury or complications when scuba diving. Some do not present special risk underwater, but are dangerous because scuba diving can severely complicate the administration of immediate medical attention or first aid. They include:

  • Athsma. Many athsma suffers have experienced attacks while underwater. Triggers include cold water, dry tank air, and exertion - note that there is no good way to administer an inhalant while underwater. If you are prone to athsma attacks, scuba is not a good sport for you.
  • Epilepsy or other seizure disorders are a certain disqualification for recreational scuba. Anyone who is at risk for seizures should not risk being underwater when one strikes.
  • Emphezema suffers may have difficulty breathing with scuba, and so should not dive.
  • Heart conditions that inhibit vigourous physical activity.
  • Diabetes is a danger only if the diabetic individual is at risk of becoming hypoglycemic while underwater. Diabetic scuba divers should consult their personal physicians to ensure that their glucose and insulin is properly regulated and their levels can be stable for the duration of any dive.
  • Viral infections of flu, common cold, or any illness that causes head congestion or blocked ears will prevent you from equalizing your inner ear. Inner ear barotrauma is excruciatingly painful and can cause permanent hearing loss.

What is "the bends"?

The bends is a common name for decompression sickness. The most noticeable symptom is pain in the joints, which can sometimes be excruciating.

What is decompression sickness?

Decompression sickness (DCS) happens when a diver ascends to the surface too quickly, and nitrogen gas dissolved in the body comes out of solution, forming bubbles. Minor DCS symptoms include pain in the joints, ruptured blood vessels, and skin problems. Severe DCS affects the central nervous system and cardiovascular system, and can be lethal. To avoid DCS, pay attention to your dive tables, ascend smoothly and slowly to the surface, and observe "decompression stops" when necessary.


What is "seabather's eruption"?

Seabather's eruption is a skin irritation caused by the larval form of the thimble jellyfish.

The larva are often misnamed "sea lice". Actual sea lice are small parasites that affect fish, and present no harm to swimmers. When you go to a beach and see a warning about "sea lice," what is meant is that the water is infested with thimble jellyfish larva.

These jellyfish larva populate the coast of the Atlantic Ocean from Virginia southward past Florida into the Carribean. The larva proliferate in the early spring.

The lice are barely visible, resembling a tiny speck of black pepper floating on the surface. They get trapped in the fabric of a swimsuit or wetsuit, where the larva repeatedly stings the victim.

Seabather's eruption may be confused with "swimmer's itch," a skin irritation caused by Schistosome cercaride , a parasitic flatworm found in fresh water. The two conditions have similar symptoms, however they are caused by different organisms.

Seabather's eruption is treated with an antihistamine and application of a topical hydrocortizone cream. Colloidal oatmeal in a bath or calamine lotion will also soothe the itching.


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