The epidemiology of injury in scuba diving

Med Sport Sci. 2012;58:57-79. doi: 10.1159/000338582. Epub 2012 Jul 18.


The epidemiology of injury associated with recreational scuba diving is reviewed. A search of electronic databases and reference lists identified pertinent research. Barotrauma, decompression sickness and drowning-related injuries were the most common morbidities associated with recreational scuba diving. The prevalence of incidents ranged from 7 to 35 injuries per 10,000 divers and from 5 to 152 injuries per 100,000 dives. Recreational scuba diving fatalities account for 0.013% of all-cause mortality aged ≥ 15 years. Drowning was the most common cause of death. Among treated injuries, recovery was complete in the majority of cases. Dive injuries were associated with diver-specific factors such as insufficient training and preexisting medical conditions. Environmental factors included air temperature and flying after diving. Dive-specific factors included loss of buoyancy control, rapid ascent and repetitive deep diving. The most common event to precede drowning was running out of gas (compressed air). Though diving injuries are relatively rare prospective, longitudinal studies are needed to quantify the effects of known risk factors and, indeed, asymptomatic injuries (e.g. brain lesions). Dive injury health economics data also remains wanting. Meanwhile, health promotion initiatives should continue to reinforce adherence to established safe diving practices such as observing depth/time limits, safety stops and conservative ascent rates. However, there is an obvious lack of evaluated diving safety interventions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Athletic Injuries / economics
  • Athletic Injuries / epidemiology*
  • Athletic Injuries / prevention & control
  • Cause of Death
  • Decompression Sickness / epidemiology
  • Diving / economics
  • Diving / injuries*
  • Drowning / economics
  • Drowning / epidemiology
  • Drowning / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Injury Severity Score
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors