Swimming And Diving Perils

Swimming is a sport that provides a complete balanced workout. Swimmers are known to benefit from its stimulating effect on cardiovascular health, flexibility, and muscle strength. Yet all sports entail risk of injury, and swimming is no exception. The most common injuries associated with swimming are neck pain and swimmer's ear.

There, however, are hazards swimmers face that are far more serious than the two low-risk injuries mentioned. Three examples are given here: hypothermia, the "bends", and the accidental striking of the head against something solid.


The condition associated with swimming is specifically referred to as aquatic hypothermia (to distinguish it from the more common land hypothermia, which often affects the elderly and newborn babies). It is characterized by an abnormally low body temperature (dropping below 35 degrees Celsius), which may occur during prolonged open water swimming (i.e., swimming in oceans, rivers, or lakes).

The first signs of this swimming peril are muscle stiffness, tiredness, and a confused mental state. Unless the condition is recognized and immediate action taken, unconsciousness will occur if the body temperature falls too low, followed by brain damage, cardiac arrest, and eventually death.

Swimming in waters with temperature below 10 degrees Celsius is even more perilous, inasmuch as severe hypothermia can occur in less than an hour.

The "Bends":

Other terms for this emergency are decompression sickness and caisson disease. It is a risk associated with underwater swimming and, more especially, deep diving.

Here's how this diving peril can occur: A diver plunges to depths of more than 30 feet (9 meters) and remains there for too long; he then ascends to the surface without allowing sufficient time for the gases dissolved in his body fluid to reach a new equilibrium. Consequently, bubbles of gas develop in his tissues.

Some of the signs that may appear soon after the diver emerges from the water are pain in the joints, paralysis of certain muscles, chest pain with cough and difficult breathing, disturbances of vision, and dizziness.

Handling of this emergency requires the use of pressure equipment (specifically, a special tank). The victim is placed in this equipment where the air pressure is increased to simulate the underwater pressure. The pressure is reduced over a period of a few hours, allowing the victim's body to make gradual adjustment.

Accidental banging of the head on something solid:

Perhaps the greatest hazard associated with swimming is that associated with diving (an essential part of swimming), which involves the possibility of striking one's head against a rock or the floor of the swimming pool. Injury to the neck is likely in such a case; the swimmer may even suffer a broken neck. In a more serious case, the victim's spinal cord may be severed, causing lifelong paralysis.

Rather than removing the victim from the water quickly, a good swimmer has to keep him afloat until help arrives to support him properly (here, the victim should be kept lying on his back in the water).

When help arrives, remove the victim from the water by placing a rigid stretcher or wooden plank (a surfboard will also do) under him and then gently lifting him. His body has to be kept motionless as he is placed in the ambulance. This is important to avoid further damage to his neck or spinal cord.

One of the best ways for avoiding these swimming and diving perils is to always wear appropriate protective equipment.

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