Skin abrasions, minor skin cuts and scrapes are very common among recreational divers. Accidental contact with rocks, corals, wrecks and other hard surfaces in or around dive sites can cause injury. Divers with poor buoyancy control frequently report abrasions. In addition, divers who dive close to the bottom or through narrow passageways without the protection of full-length wetsuits often report minor abrasions on their lower extremities.
Risks to Divers
Skin abrasions expose your underlying tissues to microorganisms, significantly increasing the risk of infections. Bleeding can also be of concern, particularly when the injury occurs on highly perfused areas such as your face, head, hands and fingers.
Though not very common, it is possible that some superficial wounds occurring in watery environments could become infected with Mycobacterium marinum (responsible for the disease known as aquarium granuloma), especially when the scratch does not seem to properly heal after weeks of what seemed proper and sound care.
To avoid skin abrasions, you must master buoyancy control and use mechanical protection such as gloves and full-body wetsuits. Though thermal insulation may not be necessary at tropical dive destinations, protection from potential skin abrasions as well as from stinging microscopic life is always a good idea. It is important to note that in an attempt to protect underwater fauna, gloves might not be permitted at some dive destinations. Ask the local dive operator about its protocols before wearing gloves; it may help to explain your reasons for wanting to wear them.
In case of minor skin abrasions, follow these basic first aid guidelines:
- Wash the area thoroughly with clean freshwater (sterile if available).
- Apply antiseptic solution (iodine-based antiseptic solutions may be contraindicated in patients with hyperthyroidism).
- Control bleeding by applying direct pressure with a sterile bandage.
If bleeding has been controlled:
- Let the area dry out.
- Apply triple antibiotic ointment.
- Cover the area with a sterile bandage.
- Have the wound evaluated by a medical professional within 24 hours to assess risk of infections.
If bleeding persists:
- Cover the wound with clean dressings, and keep them in place.
- Continue to apply pressure.
- Seek an immediate medical evaluation.
For abrasions or amputations with significant bleeding, contact local emergency medical services immediately, apply bleeding-control techniques, and monitor the patient’s vital signs. Be prepared to manage shock.