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Salt Water Aspiration Treatment

Scuba divers might start to feel the typical signs and symptoms of salt water aspiration after inhaling a fine mist of sea water vapour underwater.

The information in this help guide explains how to prevent sea water aspiration and first aid treatment for divers if they aspirate salt water.

Causes of Salt Water Aspiration Syndrome

Even though seawater is hypertonic (dense and concentrated), divers and snorkelers can still inhale atomised water, due to:

Pro Tip: If you're looking to buy scuba gear click through to our diving equipment list for further information and expert reviews.

How to Prevent Aspiration of Water

The best scuba regulator is one that doesn't produce a lot of 'atomised' water. In other words, you don't want it to get trapped in positions where it can't drain through the exhaust valve. Plus, if the valve assembly is worn - or not seated properly - it has a tendency to let water in.

Divers can test their assembly by sucking on the regulator with the air supply closed (e.g. as part of the PADI dive check).

Here's the thing:

There may be occasions when divers need (or want) to remove the regulator from the mouth while they are in the water.

If so, you should always purge the second stage before you start breathing from it to clear any excess water. To do so, use your tongue to block the normal path of airflow into the mouth to help defect water vapor through the side vents.

Pro Tip: Sometimes beginners forget to use their lips to maintain a tight seal on the mouthpiece. This is the best way to prevent leakage around the outside.

Symptoms of Inhaling Salt Water

Breathing tiny drops of seawater can cause a cough after you finish diving, especially if the vapor settles inside the lungs. Other common symptoms of aspiration syndrome include:

Salt Water Aspiration Treatment

If you aspirate salt water, similar to a non serious case of near-drowning, a full recovery should occur within a few hours. But, there can be medical complications developing inside the lungs when salt water is aspirated.

Divers should seek medical intervention in cases where there is a severe cough, bronchospasms (e.g. wheezing), or poor oxygen saturation. Seek medical advice when necessary, and:

Important: Aspirated sea water may cause a shift of fluid from the normal circulation into the pleural space and the lungs. Apart from a severe cough, it may also cause thickening of the blood (hemoconcentration). In addition, contaminated water inside the lung may lead to pneumonia and a puss-filled cavity (e.g. lung abscess).

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