Beat The Heat: Overheating While Scuba Diving
How to stay cool while scuba diving in the summer!
Summer is here, and with it, many people take to the water to swim, surf, and our all-time favorite: scuba diving. But summer also brings higher temperatures (one of the motivators for heading to the shore in the first place), and the risk of overheating while diving, or hyperthermia.
Learn what it is and how to prevent it.
What is Hyperthermia
Most people know the term hypothermia as a state for being unbearably cold.
In fact, in Greek, hypo- means “below”, and thermia means temperature, as in the body’s temperature.
So hypothermia describes the condition of the body’s core temperature when it is below what it should be and it is a serious condition that goes beyond simply being cold.
Hyper means “above”, so hyperthermia means the opposite of hypothermia, and refers to a condition when the body’s core temperature is above its normal, healthy level.
And again, it is a potentially serious condition that goes beyond simply feeling warm.
Effects of Hyperthermia
Hyperthermia happens when the body’s core temperature exceeds its normal 100.9°F/38,3°C level.
And even an increase to 104°F/40°C can be life-threatening, due to organ failure.
But before that, sluggishness, erratic behavior, convulsions, and loss of consciousness can all occur. These conditions can immensely affect a snorkeler and diver’s ability to show good judgment.
Learn more about Fit Diving: Contraindications To Scuba Diving.
Hyperthermia and Scuba Divers
Normally, the body is very good at regulating its temperature. But if we put too much pressure on our internal thermostat, we may risk hyperthermia setting in.
And because divers often head for warm, tropical areas in pursuit of their favorite activity, it is a risk we need to take seriously.
And because the oceans are rarely as warm as the air, and because it transports heat much more effectively than the air, we often need to wear various forms of exposure protection, even in the tropics.
Because of this, most hyperthermia cases with scuba divers happen while on the boat or shore and often because of overheating while wearing a wetsuit and waiting to get in the water. Even onboard a liveaboard, a diver should protect against temperature swings in one direction or the other.
Have you tried Liveaboard Diving?
Avoiding Hyperthermia While Diving
Luckily, there are a few simple things that we can do to prevent overheating.
Drink and Sweat
Sweating is one of our body’s primary defenses against overheating. By sweating and having that sweat evaporate on our skin, our body cools itself. So make sure you have plenty of fluids in your body to sweat out, and that means drinking plenty.
Learn more about Fitness And Diving: Getting Fit For Scuba Diving.
Drinking cool beverages can also help regulate the body’s temperature. Extremely cold drinks do tend to give some people stomach cramps, so if you experience that, make sure the drinks are a bit more temperate. And don’t believe the old wives tale that a hot drink helps your body “cope” with the heat.
Wait For It…
Probably the most important advice is to wait until right before diving to change into your wetsuit. Put together all your gear and get ready for the dive, but leave the wetsuit until the last possible moment.
Here’s more about Wetsuits: Why You Need To Buy Your Own.
And even then, consider only putting it on your legs and torso, and leaving your torso exposed to cool you. Once you’re ready to put on your scuba unit, and only then, do you put it all the way on and zip up. Some divers afflicted by overheating while diving are exposed to unsustainably warm conditions before a scuba dive, take the plunge with symptoms creeping up on them, and therefore don’t enjoy their experience.
Get Wet To Prevent Overheating
As soon as you’re in your wetsuit, get in the water as soon as possible. Unless there’s a current or some other reason, getting in the water and waiting for your buddy or buddies there is a much better choice than waiting on land.
If for some reason you’re delayed in getting to the water, pour some water over yourself, and inside your suit, to cool you off a bit.
Stay In The Shade
With our without (but especially with) a wetsuit on, try and get out of the sun to prevent overheating.
The difference in temperature between sun and shade can swing many degrees, so finding a breezy, shady spot to gear up is definitely preferable. In a black suit, standing in the sun, the likelihood of overheating while diving increases.
Taking a few precautions can go a long way toward preventing hyperthermia.
But if it does set in, you need to act quickly.
More on what to do to treat hyperthermia in a later article.