The Dangers of Pressure Injuries While Diving

British journalist David Attenborough had this to say about scuba diving: “I can mention many moments that were unforgettable and revelatory. But the most single revelatory three minutes was the first time I put on scuba gear and dived on a coral reef. It’s just the unbelievable fact that you can move in three dimensions.”

Scuba diving can be a truly surreal experience. Slipping beneath the water and into another world can bring beauty not seen anywhere else. Many might think that the things to be feared are the creatures that lurk beneath the surface of the water but there are other dangers to diving that many are not aware of. Pressure injuries are a consistent threat in the world of scuba diving so it is important to learn both how to treat them and how to avoid them in the first place.

Types of Pressure Injuries

Pressure injuries occur when your body can’t make adjustments to the increasing and decreasing water pressure as you breathe compressed air. Pressure changes happen as you descend and ascend into and out of the water. Most injuries are mild, but some can be deadly.

The three types of pressure injuries are:

Decompression Sickness

Also known as “the bends,” decompression sickness is one of the more well-known injuries that can occur when pressure changes happen on a dive. Decompression sickness happens when a diver comes up out of the water too quickly. Scuba divers breathe compressed air containing nitrogen. Under water, the pressure is high and the nitrogen gas goes directly into the body’s tissues. With proper training, divers know to come up out of the water and the right rate so the nitrogen can be safely expelled through the lungs. If a diver panics and comes to the surface too quickly, the nitrogen forms bubbles in the body which can cause nerve damage. In extreme cases, if the bubbles travel to the brain, decompression sickness can cause paralysis or even death.


This occurs when the body can’t equalize the pressure between it and the surrounding water. Similar to when your ears plug up or pop on an air plane as it takes off or lands, your ears, sinuses and lungs can be damaged if this pressure isn’t equalized properly. Barotrauma can happen as you descend into the water, causing sinus pain or even a ruptured ear drum. It can also happen as you ascend from under the water causing the air sacs in your lungs to rupture, making it difficult to breathe. If air bubbles enter an artery, this causes an arterial gas embolism leading to a stroke or a heart attack.

Nitrogen Narcosis

This pressure injury occurs on dives of more than 100 feet. These deep dives can cause nitrogen to build up in the brain. This can cause divers to act irrationally, almost as if they are impaired by alcohol or drugs. Divers sometimes take the regulator out of their mouths thinking they can breathe under water. Poor judgment like this cause serious injury or death.

Pressure injury symptoms can range from mild (itching, joint pain, extreme fatigue, pain in your sinuses, ears or teeth) to severe (tingling and numbness in your arms and legs, dizziness, trouble breathing, walking or seeing, confusion, chest pain or even loss of consciousness).

Preventing Pressure Injuries

By far, the best way to go about preventing pressure injuries is to take the proper scuba classes. These classes are designed to teach you the basic skills necessary to avoid these injuries and enjoy your dive experience. You will learn how to clear your ears, the proper pace to ascend and descend, as well as getting a feel for all the equipment involved.

The best place to begin this journey is through the Discover Scuba Diving program with Signature Scuba Diving. You’ll begin in a pool setting to learn the basics. You then have the option to experience an open ocean dive in Catalina with your instructor. Once you’ve mastered the basics with the Discover course, you can begin the process of earning your international certification. Whether it’s learning the importance of preventing pressure injuries or merely pursuing your passion of exploration, contact Signature Scuba Diving today to begin your adventure.

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