Here Are All The Things That Could Go Wrong While Scuba Diving

If you're itching to explore the deep seas in hopes of finding a lost treasure or new marine friends, you'll have to learn to scuba dive. Scuba diving can be a safe and rewarding hobby - if you follow certain precautions - but it can also turn deadly for those renegades wanting to jump into the water without proper training. 

For mere mortals who need to breathe air, scuba diving can present several dangers. Some are obvious (sharks) and others not (O2 supply). If you haven't gone scuba diving before, keep in mind the activity involves a lot more than putting on a mask and wetsuit. There are computers and lots of equipment to master, which sounds simple when you're landlocked, but a multitude of stressful issues may occur underwater. Before signing up for a diving course, brush up on some of the avoidable disasters that can happen under the surface.


  • You Could Get Trapped In A Shipwreck
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    You Could Get Trapped In A Shipwreck

    Exploring a shipwreck sounds like something straight out of a swashbuckling adventure film, but real dangers can arise. Whether you're seeking a giant squid or hunting for treasure, it's easy to become lost inside a shipwreck - particularly if it's a big one. When you're underwater, you have reduced visibility and may encounter confusing twists and turns; you run the risk of colliding with something, getting trapped, or puncturing your equipment. There's also the possibility the ship might get overturned while you're navigating in the dark. 

    Ultimately, it's imperative that you avoid getting lost, tangled, or trapped when you're exploring a shipwreck. Scuba divers should learn to accurately lay and utilize a guideline, as well as keep a cutting device close by to cut tangled fishing lines or nets. It's also important to do your research before you head down to a wreck; stay cautious even if you have prepared well. 

  • Decompression Sickness Could Cause Bubbles In Your Blood
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    Decompression Sickness Could Cause Bubbles In Your Blood

    Decompression illness may not sound too bad, but it can cause gnarly health complications by materializing as decompression sickness (DCS) or an arterial gas embolism (AGE). Both ultimately can cause tissue damage - DCS from bubbles developing in the tissue and AGE from bubbles entering the lungs and blocking blood flow.

    When divers don't exhale before they surface, they can suffer from pulmonary barotrauma, which occurs when the air trapped in the lung expands and damages lung tissue. Bottom line: breathe at the correct times when underwater and surfacing.

    DCS, colloquially known as the bends, happens when your body doesn't decompress after you've been under pressure for a long time (like divers underwater). If you come up to the surface too promptly, nitrogen gas can form harmful bubbles and cause an awful rash.

    To avoid problems from decompression, be mindful of the depth of your dive and how quickly you surface. However, decompression seems to strike randomly - it can happen to anyone at any time, regardless of diving experience. The best thing to do is be aware of the symptoms and, if necessary, seek treatment immediately. 

  • You Might Run Into Dangerous Marine Life
    Photo: Juergen Gangoly / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    You Might Run Into Dangerous Marine Life

    Contrary to popular belief, sharks don't attack humans often, but there's always a small possibility that you could meet a ravenous animal on your next dive. If you're exploring the depths of the ocean, you might end up in shark territory. Most sharks are curious creatures who have no desire to harm humans, so it's important to relax and, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History, "enjoy your opportunity to see one of nature's most magnificent predators."

    If a shark does decide to be predatory, be sure to stick with your dive partner - a part of your underwater support system - for safety. If you can't surface without sustaining an injury, back up against something like a reef or rocks so that the shark can't approach you from behind. 

    If things get out of hand and you must defend yourself, hit the shark on the nose and try to escape the area as quickly as possible, as the next hit to the nose will be less effective.

  • Oxygen Could Poison You

    We need oxygen to live, but it can prove poisonous when you're scuba diving. Divers who use enriched air nitrox or pure oxygen when plunging to extreme depths can experience oxygen toxicity. Oxygen toxicity can affect a diver's pulmonary and central nervous systems. 

    If you're experiencing oxygen toxicity, you may start coughing, develop a burning sensation in your throat, have trouble breathing, and ultimately suffer from lung failure. Oxygen toxicity can result in the loss of life in severe cases. 

    There are two simple methods to avoid the condition: stay above 130 feet of seawater (FSW) during a dive; take five-minute "air breaks" after each 25-minute period of pure oxygen exposure - these intermissions prevent cell damage by allowing a diver to build a tolerance to the oxygen.

  • You Could Have A Panic Attack

    Pure panic is one of the main reasons divers never return to the surface, as the National Underwater Accident Data Center reports it can contribute to about 20% of diver fatalities. Regardless of what causes a diver to panic, the outcome of doing so isn't good - breathing too quickly can produce excess carbon dioxide or cause a diver to pass out. And when your mind is racing, you aren't thinking clearly. If an urgent problem arises, a panicked diver might not be able to slow down and think logically. 

    To avoid panic or at least mitigate it, you can perform practice dives and develop an emergency plan before you navigate open water.

  • You Might Get Nitrogen Narcosis
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    You Might Get Nitrogen Narcosis

    Most people have had exposure to laughing gas, such as during a dental operation, and they may be familiar with the motor and cognitive issues that arise while being under the gas. This feeling is exponentially more terrifying when diving, as those same side effects can worsen.

    Extra nitrogen can essentially produce the effect of a narcotic, which is not something you would want to experience while scuba diving. Your senses and judgment will become impaired. The deeper you go, the more nitrogen you could potentially absorb. What's particularly dangerous about nitrogen narcosis: once you're deep enough, you'll almost certainly experience it. You might not even be aware of it until something goes wrong. 

    The good news, though, is if you ascend only 10 feet or so, the effects of nitrogen narcosis should subside. Since nitrogen narcosis is practically inevitable, make sure you're familiar with your equipment, have a solid dive plan, regularly check your air gauge, and dive slowly.