Diving medicine

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Diving Medicine

Diver rescue - beaching
Decompression chamber
Pulmonary toxicity tolerance curves
US Navy 090702-N-5710P-093 xplosive Ordnance Disposal Technician 1st Class Chandler Morris demonstrates the proper placement of an underwater charge to a submerged training device during exercise Infinite Response '09

Diving medicine, alternatively referred to as undersea and hyperbaric medicine (UHB), is a specialized field of medical practice dedicated to the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of medical conditions that arise when individuals enter the undersea or hyperbaric environments. This multifaceted discipline encompasses a wide range of knowledge and skills, including understanding the physiological effects of pressure on gases, managing conditions resulting from marine hazards, and assessing the fitness of divers to ensure their safety. Diving medical practitioners play a critical role in safeguarding the health and well-being of individuals engaged in diving activities.


Diving medicine is an interdisciplinary field that merges principles from various medical specialties, such as physiology, emergency medicine, and occupational medicine. Its primary focus is on addressing the unique challenges posed by diving, where individuals are exposed to increased pressure and unique environmental factors.

Key Areas of Diving Medicine

Diving medicine encompasses several key areas of expertise:

Pressure Effects

  • Barotrauma: Barotrauma refers to physical injuries caused by pressure changes. Common examples include ear barotrauma and sinus barotrauma, which can occur during descent and ascent in diving.
  • Decompression Sickness (DCS): DCS, often called "the bends," results from the formation of nitrogen bubbles in the bloodstream due to rapid decompression. It can cause a range of symptoms, including joint pain, neurological issues, and even paralysis if left untreated.
  • Oxygen Toxicity: Prolonged exposure to high partial pressures of oxygen can lead to oxygen toxicity, which may result in seizures and other neurological problems.
  • High-Pressure Nervous Syndrome (HPNS): HPNS is a neurological condition that can affect divers at extreme depths. Symptoms include tremors, nausea, and muscle weakness.

Marine Hazards

  • Marine Animal Envenomations: Divers may encounter marine animals capable of delivering venomous stings or bites. Understanding how to manage and treat these envenomations is essential.
  • Hypothermia: Prolonged exposure to cold water can lead to hypothermia, a potentially life-threatening condition. Diving medical practitioners must be proficient in recognizing and treating hypothermia.

Fitness to Dive

  • Diver Physical Examinations: Diving medical practitioners evaluate the health and physical fitness of individuals before they engage in diving activities. This assessment helps determine if they are fit to dive safely.
  • Medical Clearances: Divers with certain medical conditions, such as cardiovascular disorders or respiratory illnesses, may require medical clearance before diving.
  • Recreational vs. Commercial Diving: Diving medical practitioners distinguish between recreational and commercial divers, as the latter group often faces additional occupational health risks.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is an integral component of diving medicine. It involves exposing patients to pure oxygen within a hyperbaric chamber at elevated pressures. HBOT is used to treat conditions like DCS, barotrauma, and chronic non-healing wounds.

Diving Medical Practitioners

Diving medical practitioners are medical professionals who have received specialized training in diving medicine. They are responsible for ensuring the safety of divers by assessing their fitness to dive, providing medical care when needed, and offering guidance on safe diving practices. These practitioners may work in various settings, including hospitals, diving centers, and research institutions.

Diving Medicine Glossary

This glossary covers terms related to diving medicine, including various conditions and concepts that divers may encounter during their activities.

Atrial Septal Defect

Atrial septal defect is a congenital heart condition that may affect divers.

Air Embolism

An air embolism occurs when air bubbles enter the bloodstream and can obstruct blood flow.

Alternobaric Vertigo

Alternobaric vertigo is a type of vertigo caused by unequal pressure changes between the ears.

Avascular Necrosis

Avascular necrosis is the death of bone tissue due to reduced blood supply, which can be associated with diving disorders.


Barodontalgia refers to tooth pain caused or exacerbated by pressure changes, especially during flights or diving.


Barotrauma refers to physical injuries caused by pressure changes, often affecting the ears or sinuses.

Compression Arthralgia

Compression arthralgia refers to joint pain resulting from pressure changes during diving.

Dead Space (Physiology)

Dead space (physiology) refers to areas in the respiratory system where air does not participate in gas exchange.

Decompression Illness

Decompression illness (DCI) results from inadequate decompression following a dive.

Demand Valve Oxygen Therapy

Demand valve oxygen therapy provides oxygen on-demand for divers in emergency situations.

Diving and Hyperbaric Medicine

Diving and Hyperbaric Medicine is a medical journal covering topics related to diving and hyperbaric medicine.

Diving Chamber

A diving chamber is a hyperbaric chamber used for treating diving-related illnesses and conducting research.

Diving Disorders

Diving disorders encompass a range of medical conditions related to diving activities.

Diving Reflex

The diving reflex is a set of physiological responses that occur when the face is immersed in cold water.


Dysbarism refers to medical conditions resulting from changes in ambient pressure, often associated with diving.

Ear Clearing

Ear clearing techniques are used to equalize pressure in the middle ear during descent.

Exercise Paddington Diamond

The Exercise Paddington Diamond was a military exercise involving a simulated nuclear attack on a nuclear submarine.

Frenzel Maneuver

The Frenzel maneuver is a technique used for equalizing ear pressure during descent.

Freediving Blackout

A freediving blackout is a loss of consciousness that can occur after resurfacing from a freedive.

Hyperbaric Medicine

Hyperbaric medicine involves the use of hyperbaric chambers for medical treatment and research.

Hyperbaric Treatment Schedules

Hyperbaric treatment schedules outline the protocols for hyperbaric oxygen therapy in different medical contexts.


Hypercapnia occurs when there is an elevated level of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream.


Hyperoxia is a condition where there is an excessive supply of oxygen in the body, which can lead to oxygen toxicity.

Hydrogen Narcosis

Hydrogen narcosis is a neurological condition caused by breathing hydrogen at depth, leading to symptoms similar to nitrogen narcosis.

High-Pressure Nervous Syndrome

High-pressure nervous syndrome is a neurological condition affecting divers at extreme depths.


Hypothermia is a potentially life-threatening condition resulting from prolonged exposure to cold water.

Hypoxia (Medical)

Hypoxia (medical) refers to a condition where there is insufficient oxygen supply to body tissues.

Inner Ear Decompression Sickness

Inner ear decompression sickness involves symptoms related to the inner ear, often affecting divers.

Isobaric Counterdiffusion

Isobaric counterdiffusion occurs when two different inert gases exchange in tissues during a dive.

Joseph B. MacInnis

Joseph B. MacInnis is a notable figure in diving medicine and underwater exploration.

Latent Hypoxia

Latent hypoxia is a condition where symptoms of hypoxia are not immediately apparent.

Middle Ear Barotrauma

Middle ear barotrauma is a common condition among divers, involving pressure-related ear injuries.

Nitrogen Narcosis

Nitrogen narcosis is a reversible alteration of consciousness experienced by divers at certain depths.


Normocapnia refers to the normal level of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream.

Oxygen Therapy

Oxygen therapy involves administering oxygen to treat or prevent conditions like hypoxia.

Oxygen Toxicity

Oxygen toxicity occurs with prolonged exposure to high partial pressures of oxygen and may lead to seizures and neurological problems.

Oxygen Window

The oxygen window refers to a range of pressures where divers are at risk of oxygen toxicity.

Rubicon Foundation

The Rubicon Foundation is a research organization focused on diving and hyperbaric medicine.

Salt Water Aspiration Syndrome

Saltwater aspiration syndrome refers to lung injuries resulting from inhaling saltwater.

Swimming-Induced Pulmonary Edema

Swimming-induced pulmonary edema is a condition where fluid accumulates in the lungs during strenuous swimming.

Uncontrolled Decompression

Uncontrolled decompression is a situation where a rapid ascent occurs without proper decompression stops.

Valsalva Maneuver

The Valsalva maneuver is a technique used to equalize pressure in the ears and sinuses during diving.

European Diving Technology Committee

The European Diving Technology Committee is an organization focusing on diving technology.


Diving medicine plays a crucial role in safeguarding the health and safety of individuals who venture into the underwater world. By understanding the effects of pressure, managing marine hazards, and assessing divers' fitness to dive, diving medical practitioners contribute significantly to the well-being of the diving community.


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