DAN Europe launched the Hydration Safety Campaign in 2013 to promote the importance of hydration in diving. Why? Because dehydration is a contributing risk factor for Decompression Sickness (DCS) and where diving safety is concerned, DAN is concerned. The slogan "More Water, Less Bubbles" refers to the fact that good hydration significantly reduces the amount of circulating bubbles.
Dehydration occurs when the body loses more fluid than is taken in and this can lead to medical problems that should be avoided.
Generally, these problems (especially in the case of chronic or severe dehydration) can result in headaches, decreased performance, irritability, confusion, fatigue, muscle cramps, reduction of thermoregulation, decreased level of consciousness, the production of kidney stones (long term) and can even lead to shock which is a life threatening condition. It is clear that these problems will negatively influence the medical condition of both divers and non divers and dehydration should therefore be avoided at all times.
But there is another concern: dehydration is a contributing risk factor for Decompression Sickness (DCS). To put it simply, dehydration will reduce the volume of blood plasma and perfusion of tissues (so it thickens the blood and reduces blood flow). The blood is responsible for the transportation of nutrients and for the exchange of gases. If the reduction in blood plasma becomes too great, it could lead to the decreased efficiency of gaseous exchange, thus also affecting the off-gassing of Nitrogen and increasing the risk of developing DCS.
In principle, diving increases the risk of becoming dehydrated. We have seen during some of our DSL projects that many divers are not well hydrated before the dive (and even less after the dive). In normal conditions however proper hydration should not become the main concern of divers, neither should it be ignored.
However, when going on a diving holiday the risk factor rises due to increased frequency of diving and (usually) increased climate. Therefore, appropriate hydration should be a key concern.
If you could not equalise during a previous dive then you should not be diving until the problem is resolved. It may indicate a pre-existing problem, most commonly from infection or allergies. The mucus membrane will retain fluid and swell, narrowing the pathways to the sinuses and the Eustachian tubes. This not only makes clearing difficult, but it may prevent it altogether. Some divers use nasal sprays or oral medications to temporary shrink swollen mucus membranes and aid sinus and middle ear equalisation. These medications however can wear off at depth, possibly leading to complications on ascent.
Why a campaign to promote hydration in diving? Because our scientific studies demonstrate that dehydration is a contributing risk factor for Decompression Sickness (DCS), and where diving safety is concerned, DAN is concerned. The slogan "More Water, Less Bubbles" refers to the fact that good hydration significantly reduces the amount of circulating bubbles. The DAN safety tour is spreading throughout Europe. Our staff is meeting up with hundreds of divers from several countries, talking with them and distributing free water bottles.
Dehydration begins to develop when you enter the airplane that takes you to your preferred dive destination. The air in the cabin is much dryer than the air on earth and our lungs have to work harder to humidify the air.
It is recommended to drink 240ml of water each hour of the flight.
Many travellers also like to drink coffee, coke or a beer during their flight, but these liquids just don't have the same hydrating effect as water. Alcohol and drinks containing caffeine are diuretics, consuming these will result in dehydration as they absorb water from the cells in your body and increase urine production.
When coming out of the sea, the (salt) water will dry and leave salt crystals behind on your skin. These can often visually be seen, and have the ability to absorb and hold water molecules. This means it will take the moisture out of your skin, which then will evaporate due to the sun and wind, increasing dehydration further.
Vomiting, because you have been drinking too much or because you suffer from seasickness or for any other reason will heighten the rate of dehydration because you lose large amounts of fluid and electrolytes in a short period of time.
The same negative effect can be seen when you have traveller's diarrhoea, which is an intestinal infection that occurs as a result of unsanitary food handling.
Some medication, especially blood pressure medication has a diuretic effect and as you know this diuretic effect will lead to dehydration.
If you now consider that on a diving holiday, you like to dive daily and even twice a day, then you can understand the increased dehydration and DCS risk.
Obviously the risk does not increase just because you are on a holiday, but there are nine behavioural and environmental factors that contribute to the diver becoming dehydrated much faster and without realising it.
You are on holiday and it is not uncommon to have some fun and a few alcoholic drinks when enjoying your free time.
While dinking and diving is never recommended, alcohol also makes you dehydrate faster.
As you know already, alcohol (as well as coffee and other drinks containing caffeine) has a diuretic effect, increasing the urine output. This will make you urinate more frequently making you dehydrate.
The most attractive dive destinations for the regular diver are those "warm water" locations where there are nice, big coral reefs and nicely coloured fish.
In these destinations there is a warm, sunny and sometimes humid climate.
It is clear that in these conditions you sweat and if you sweat you lose fluid, which if not replaced makes you dehydrated.
If you then also get sunburnt you will lose fluids even faster. When you have sunburn, your skin gets red and hot (and sometimes becomes painful) and our body reacts to this by sending fluid to the skin. The sun and wind will evaporate this moisture and even more fluid gets lost in this way.
There are 3 things particular to diving itself that increase dehydration: Sweating, Immersion Diuresis (increased urine production) and breathing compressed air.
While the dive suit keeps you warm during the dive, it also does not allow you to cool down. So if you already are in a warm climate and are sweating when only wearing a t-shirt, imagine how much you will sweat under the dive suit.
During the dive, the increased ambient pressure and cooler water temperature will cause the blood vessels in the extremities to narrow and blood will be shunted from the extremities to the core of our body (heart, lungs and large internal blood vessels) in an effort to keep you warm. This increased blood volume in our core is seen by our body as a fluid overload. As a reaction the kidneys will produce more urine (which means losing water and salt again). This is also why divers feel the need to urinate during or immediately after the dive and this is referred to as Immersion Diuresis. Although one might think that when urinating a lot you are well hydrated, it actually means you are losing excessive fluids.
Another cause for loss of fluids while diving is the air you breathe. Just as in the airplane the air in the scuba cylinders is dry and you already know you lose more fluid to humidify this dry air. If you then also take into account that due to the colder water temperature, your lungs need to work even more to warm up the air, then you are increasing this moisture loss even more.
Check the colour of urine. It should be transparent or light yellow. Darker coloured urine normally means that you are dehydrated (although the colour can also be influenced by certain medication). Little or no urine at all can indicate you are dehydrated but on the other hand a lot of urine does not automatically indicate you are well hydrated.
- THIRST (DRINK BEFORE YOU ARE THIRSTY AS THIRST ALREADY MEANS YOU ARE STARTING TO GET DEHYDRATED)
- MUSCLE CRAMPS
- DRY OR STICKY MOUTH
- DARK COLOURED URINE
- DECREASED URINE OUTPUT
- EXTREME THIRST AND VERY DRY MOUTH
- DRY SKIN THAT SAGS SLOWLY INTO POSITION WHEN PINCHED UP
- RAPID HEARTBEAT, WEAK PULSE
- RAPID BREATHING
- SUNKEN EYES AND/OR EYES THAT DO NOT PRODUCE TEARS
- NOT PASSING URINE FOR EIGHT HOURS
- LOW BLOOD PRESSURE
- IRRITABILITY AND CONFUSION
- LOW LEVEL OF CONSCIOUSNESS
- EXTREME FATIGUE - WEAKNESS
Most dehydration is mild and can easily be resolved by drinking more water. The use of Oral Rehydration Salts or Isotonic sport drinks in addition to water can also be considered as these will replace salts and electrolytes. However, where more severe symptoms are apparent, immediate medical care is required. It is clear that these problems will negatively influence the medical condition of both divers and non divers and dehydration should therefore be avoided at all times.
It is much better to avoid dehydration instead of resolving it. Only by avoiding it, divers will reduce the risk of DCS.
After discussing dehydration and its effects on the body, we can conclude you should rinse yourselves down with fresh water after every dive, keep your dive suit off until right before the dive itself, avoid or moderate alcohol consumption or drinks with caffeine and protect yourselves from too much sun/sunburn.
But the easiest thing to do is to drink plenty of water.
However, you do not want to increase plasma volume too rapidly as this will only increase urine production again and not hydrate the body tissues. Therefore the advice is to drink a glass of water every 15-20 minutes instead of drinking a litre of water just before or after the dive. This will allow the tissues to be hydrated and consequently avoid the decreased gas exchange which can lead to bubble formation and DCS.
How much you actually need to drink depends on many factors, but drinking at least 2 litres extra (in addition to what you normally drink a day) will help you to keep hydrated.
You can also consider eating foods with a high water content, such as fruits and vegetables.
Some companies also sell drinking bags that can be used to drink under water, during the dive.