As a dive professional, you know that planning, preparation and careful decision-making are key risk management tools for preventing serious dive incidents and injuries during training. Because of this, the “worst” injuries most student divers face are often bumps and bruises that can be addressed quickly and easily. Knowing that minor mishaps do occur, it’s important to refresh your first-aid skills regularly, and be ready to deal with common problems. The following are a few maladies to consider and ways to handle them.
Blisters and hotspots are annoying and detract from a diver’s ability to focus on learning. Left unattended, blisters can become serious problems if allowed to get worse or become infected. Whether they’re caused by equipment that doesn’t fit right or too much exposure on sensitive skin, address all hotspots and blisters before they become worse. Protect them from friction using moleskin or a thick bandage. In areas where it’s particularly difficult for a bandage to adhere, consider using a tincture of benzoin or another medical adhesive to keep the bandage in place. Avoid draining a blister if possible, but if a blister must be broken use a sanitized needle or a sharp blade to make a small incision near the bottom of the blisters edge, and keep the wound covered.
Any open wound can become infected and infections are of particular concern when divers travel. Student divers who are dealing with travel stress, a different diet, sweat, dirt and increased physical activity are more likely to have their wounds become infected, which puts a damper on a dive vacation. It’s important to keep an eye on all wounds and address them before they become serious concerns. Use the acronym SHARP (swelling, heat, aches/pains, redness, and pus) to identify wounds that need medical care. If signs of an infection appear, re-clean the wound, apply moist heat (as hot as the patient can tolerate) every four to six hours, and change the dressings multiple times per day.
Dealing with the hot sun while distracted by dive equipment or preparations can lead to overheating (hyperthermia). Heat exhaustion is the result of a hot environment combined with insufficient hydration. Heat exhausted individuals often complain of headache, nausea, dizziness and display vomiting, profuse sweating, pale or flushed skin and disorientation. The condition is inconvenient and uncomfortable, but can be remedied with hydration and rest in a cool, shady spot. If the condition is allowed to progress however, it can become heat stroke, which is a real medical emergency. Heat stroke is the elevation of the body’s core temperature to greater than 40ºC/105ºF and immediate intervention is required. If a diver stops sweating, begins to have cramps or faints, seek medical attention immediately and aggressively cool the individual. Get exposure protection off and put ice packs at armpits, neck and groin. Fanning or directing cool air from a scuba cylinder over the diver are good steps to aid cooling, while evacuating the individual to professional medical care.