Scuba Safety: Shallow Water Blackout Prevention

Scuba diving is a wonderful, fun activity. However, if you aren’t careful, it can also turn out to be dangerous.

While there are all kinds of risks involved in scuba diving, one of the main and most frightening ones is shallow water blackout.

Read on to learn more about what shallow water blackout is and how you can protect yourself and others you dive with against it.

What is Shallow Water Blackout?

Shallow water blackout is a condition that occurs when a person is not getting enough oxygen to his or her brain, a condition known as hypoxia.

Due to this lack of oxygen, the person “blacks out.” Obviously, blacking out while in the water is extremely dangerous, especially if the diver is alone at the time.

People have been known to drown, suffocate, and even die due to the combination of blacking out and having low oxygen. In fact, in some cases, even people who do not black out will die from not having enough oxygen for too long.

Obviously, shallow water blackout is a very real and scary thing, but the good news is that you can protect yourself against it.

Know the Warning Signs

One of the first things to know and understand about shallow water blackout is that it doesn’t always have warning signs. Sometimes, it occurs without the person having any clue that anything was ever wrong.

In fact, in some cases, the lack of oxygen can make the person feel euphoric, which can cause him or her to continue breath holding.

What’s even worse is that it does not take long for this condition to lead to brain damage or even death. In fact, this can happen in as little as two and a half minutes!

The key, then, is to understand how to prevent this condition, as well as to be aware of the warning signs that sometimes (but not always) accompany the condition.

In many cases, the only “warning” you would get would be that the person blacks out on the surface. If this happens, you would want to quickly remove any facial equipment the person may be wearing. From there, give mouth to nose rescue breaths and try talking to the person. If you cannot make the person responsive, then perform CPR and call for help.

Also, when coming to the surface, be sure to pay attention to the lips of your fellow divers. Lips that are blue or purple in color could indicate low oxygen levels.

Also know that sudden seizures can be indicators of an impending shallow water blackout.

The more you know and the more you are on the lookout for these warning signs, the more likely it is that you and those you dive with will stay safe.

However, prevention should be the ultimate goal and, fortunately, there are many ways to prevent shallow water blackout from happening to you or someone you care about.

Know and Avoid the Causes

As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That statement certainly applies in the case of shallow water blackout.

You need to know what causes it so that you can protect yourself. And, once you do know, educate others to help protect them too.

To start with, one of the leading causes of shallow water blackout is hyperventilating, which can be thought of as “over breathing.” When a person breathes in too much at a time, the body’s urge to breathe is reduced. Thus, you might end up diving too far and too deep without even realizing you don’t have enough oxygen. Even worse yet, when you hyperventilate, it raises your heart rate, reduces blood flow, and also makes it harder to access the oxygen you need. Hyperventilating is bad on multiple levels, so do your best not to do it.

One common reason that people hyperventilate is because they panic or get stressed. If this happens to you, for any reason, remind yourself that hyperventilating will only make the problem worse and force yourself to breathe calmly and at a normal rate.

Something else to remember is that, when you come up, your only focus should be on relaxing and taking recovery breaths in the proper way. If you talk, instead, or start moving around too much, you could mess up your recovery breaths, and this could then lead to shallow water blackout.

Also, make sure that you do not dive deeper or for longer than you are comfortable with. Sometimes, people really get ahead of themselves and push themselves too hard too fast. Be honest with yourself about your experience level, and don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you do, you run the risk of seriously harming your body or perhaps even ending your life.

If you are new to diving, then you may find it wise to take an actual course on free diving. Sure, many people teach themselves or learn from friends, but a certified instructor can go a long way toward increasing your safety. These professionals know how to assess breathing techniques, correct issues, and educate you on how to protect yourself when you’re in the water. Taking that class could just end up saving your life, so we definitely think it’s worth it.

Whether you choose to take a class or not (and we really think you should), we do want to encourage you never to dive when you’re overly cold. Shivering and being cold will cause the body to use more oxygen than it normally would, and you might find yourself inadvertently breathing less to compensate. This can lead to shallow water blackout and other problems. Cold water diving is not bad in and of itself, but not everyone is equipped to handle it. So, if you feel too cold, save the dive for another day. You might just save yourself in the process!

Something else to remember in order to protect yourself is to avoid keeping your snorkel in your mouth when you go underwater. When you do that, you have to give a hard exhale to clear it, which can lead to blacking out. Compounding things even further, if you did black out, the snorkel would make it more difficult for you to receive the help that you need and could even send water into your lungs, which is dangerous in and of itself. Just don’t do it. Snorkels are for surface breathing only!

Be careful when you come out of the water after a dive. You want to be slow and easy, especially near the end. Your highest risk of black out is in the first 10 meters below the surface, so be very careful at this point. Go as slow as possible and stop finning in order to conserve both energy and oxygen.

If you do find yourself in a situation where you’re not breathing like you should or you need some fresh air, don’t be afraid to drop that weight belt. So many people won’t do this, even though that’s the whole reason these belts are designed to be taken off easily. Getting rid of that weight belt will help you get to the top where you can breathe freely. And, if you’re worried about wasting the money, worry more about wasting your life. You matter a whole lot more than a weight belt, and your diving buddies are probably going to grab it for you anyway.

And, speaking of “diving buddies,” please don’t ever dive alone. It is one of the biggest mistakes that you could make. You need to always dive with someone who will “have your back” and call for help if something goes wrong. Make sure you choose someone who is an experienced diver. It’s fine to bring a “newbie” along, but most of the people in your party should know what they’re doing and what to do if something goes wrong.

Ideally, try to have two experienced friends along when possible. That way, someone can help the injured person while the other one can call for medical assistance. In addition to diving with friends, make sure someone knows where you are diving and when you’ll be back. That way, if something were to go wrong, you would have help. Also, try to find a phone or other communication device that will work. This can be hard when you go to remote diving locations, but you really do want to have some kind of contact with the outside world, just in case.

By protecting yourself in these ways, you can greatly reduce the risk of shallow water blackout and other common scuba diving concerns.

Keywords:Shallow water blackout

Featured image: Video screen capture, Shallow water blackout, via YouTube, caption and filter added.

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