DIVERS always post underwater pictures of fascinating and rich marine biodiversity in their social media pages. It gives an impression, at least to me, that diving is all about knowing how to swim and breathe with an oxygen tank strapped to the back.
It was not until I signed up for diving lessons with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (Padi) that I realised there was more to the activity than just taking beautiful underwater pictures.
During the three-day course, I found out that diving is recommended therapy for those with major and life-changing injuries.
The weightlessness of being underwater relieves physical pain and enables patients to exercise in a more comfortable manner.
And it can help with weight loss because diving for just one hour can burn 600 calories while warm-water boat dives burn an average of 300 calories.
Padi’s certified instructor Emmanuele Girelli says it is important for divers to be certified by medical doctors as a safety precaution.
To avoid complications while diving, they must maintain their fitness and stamina with regular exercise and cut out smoking and alcohol.
I also realised that while diving is an exciting sport, mishaps can happen, from mild discomfort to life threatening risks.
He says it is important to breathe normally while ascending to the surface. There should be a three to five minute pause in between the ascending distance, to reduce the risk. “Divers should not hold their breath as it can lead to over-expanded lungs. This life-threatening condition requires recompression in a chamber as soon as possible.”
Girelli, who has made more than 1,700 dives, says the amount of nitrogen can increase if the diver spends too much time or dives too deep into the sea. When the excess nitrogen cannot be eliminated from the body in time, the gas can form in the blood and tissues. It leads to decompression sickness or “the bends”.
Signs and symptoms range from paralysis, dizziness, numbness, joint pain, breathing difficulty and loss of consciousness.
In the worst case scenario, it may lead to death.
“All cases of decompression sickness, even with mild symptoms, should be taken seriously. Other factors that can cause the sickness are fatigue, dehydration, poor fitness, illness, cold and alcohol consumption. Treatment includes recompression chamber in addition to basic aid to resuscitate the unconscious diver .”
It is also possible to suffer from hypothermia even in warm water with a temperature of 30˚Celcius as it can absorb heat about 20 times faster than air of the same temperature. An uncontrollable shivering while diving is a warning sign and a diver should leave the water immediately.
Divers are also at risk of injury from hazardous aquatic organisms that sting, puncture or bite. When this happens, it is important to control the bleeding, rinse with salt water or seek medical assistance. “Exposure to direct sunlight can cause sunburn or damage to the eyes. Wear protective clothing such as a rash guard, apply chemical-free sunscreen, stay under the shade and wear quality sunglasses to protect the eyes.
“Increasing water pressure may cause discomfort to the cheeks, forehead and along the nose. To balance the pressure, pinch your nose and blow gently against it as you descent. Another method is to take a deep breath before you enter slowly into the water for equalisation.
“If you continue to descent with unequalised air spaces, it can lead to ear injuries. A forceful or extended equalisation can also cause permanent injuries to ears and hearing.”
Girelli says it is common to get exhausted underwater and experience the feeling of air starvation as breathing resistance increases with depth. It can be overcome by breathing and pacing the movement slowly.
Divers also need to get suitable antimotion sickness medication to be taken several hours before departure. It can also be avoided by not taking greasy or hard to digest foods.
“Due to these potential risks, divers must always check their equipment and oxygen tank, dive with a friend, dive within the scope of their certification, have frequent monitoring of depth and air supply, avoid harsh environments and consider terminating a dive in case of bad weather.”