Scuba Diving Risks

Scuba diving is not a dangerous sport. Scuba diving is riskier than a sport like hockey or baseball, but less dangerous than street luge or mountain climbing. Modern scuba diving equipment is easy to use, very reliable and with the proper training and a responsible attitude scuba diving can be enjoyed safely. In fact, almost all scuba diving injuries and casualties are the result of recklessness or bad judgment.

There are certainly risks involved in scuba diving. Part of certification training is learning about those risks and how to avoid them. The majority of possible health problems are forms of barotraumas, which are all caused in one way or another by changes in pressure. Other possible risks are associated with higher absorption of gases, while other risks are more mechanical and environmental in nature.

Here are some of the risks associated with scuba:

  • Barotrauma (explained by Boyle’s law)
    • alternobaric vertigo 
      Dizziness or disorientation caused by unbalanced pressures in the inner ear. Most commonly experienced by stubborn scuba divers trying to dive with the common cold.
    • altitude sickness 
      Headache caused by a quick ascent, usually associated with airplane travel.
    • barodontalgia 
      Pain caused by tiny bubbles of gasses trapped in the teeth, usually in fillings or caps.
    • decompression sickness, a.k.a. “the bends” 
      Nitrogen coming out of a solution in tissue which is caused by hastened decompression.
    • dysbaric osteonecrosis 
      Rare bone lesions produced by long term exposure to high pressure environments.
    • embolism 
      Nitrogen coming out of a solution in the body. It can be caused by accelerated decompression.
    • arterial gas embolism 
      Gas coming out of a solution in the arteries. It can be potentially fatal.
    • cerebral embolism 
      Gas coming out of a solution in the brain. It can be potentially fatal.
    • lung expansion injury 
      It can be caused by holding breath while ascending.
    • pneumomediastinum 
      Ruptured bronchus or alveoli in the lungs from excessive pressure. May be caused by holding breath while ascending.
    • pressure arrhythmias 
      Abnormal heart rhythms caused by external pressure.
    • tinnitus, Eustachian & inner ear damage, Tympanic membrane rupture and/or hearing loss 
      Inner ear damage can result from diving without equalizing air pressure in the Eustachian tubes. It is complicated or caused by water pressure and blocked sinuses and it can be extremely painful.
  • Non-Barotrauma (explained by Henry’s Laws and Dalton’s Laws)
    • co2 toxicity, a.k.a. hypercapnia. 
      Too much CO2 in the body, usually caused by inadequate exhalation or air consumption during heavy exertion. Symptoms include shortness of breath, headache and/or confusion.
    • nitrogen narcosis, a.k.a. “rapture of the deep” 
      The result of a toxic effect of high pressure nitrogen on nerve conduction. Symptoms are comparable to the effects of alcohol drunkenness.
    • o2 toxicity 
      Toxic effects of absorbing too much oxygen. Symptoms include a burning sensation in the lungs, twitching, dizziness, vomiting and/or seizures.
  • Other physical and health hazards – Scuba Diving
    • dangerous marine life 
      Most common injuries are the result of divers touching poisonous animals such as jellyfish, fire coral, urchins or stingrays. Attacks by large fish are extremely rare.
    • dehydration 
      Dehydration is an inadequate bodily water level. Surprisingly common on boat tours; diving while dehydrated aggravates other health risks including nitrogen narcosis and hypercapnia.
    • hypothermia 
      Hypothermia is a loss of body heat and early symptoms include fatigue and loss of judgment.
    • drowning 
      An obvious risk if for any reason a diver breathes in water instead of air or just simply the loss of air.
    • running out of air 
      Typically caused by irresponsible air management or scuba equipment failure.
    • underwater injury 
      Common injuries include abrasions and cuts (from sharp coral), sprains, bumps and bruises. Studies show more serious injuries occur getting in and out of the boat than actually in the water.