Recognizing Lung Conditions

Written by DAN Staff

Acute lung conditions are some of the most dramatic and life-threatening injuries found in the diving environment. As a dive professional, you need to be able to quickly recognize and react to them. Acute pulmonary conditions require prompt care because they can have serious and long-lasting effects. Here are some of the most common lung conditions faced by divers:

Immersion Pulmonary Edema (IPE)

IPE is one of several lung conditions that could affect divers who are or were recently submerged. Common symptoms of IPE are chest pain, frothy pink sputum and difficult or labored breathing.

A form of pulmonary edema, IPE is an accumulation of fluid in the lungs caused in part by immersion in water. IPE occurs when the opposing pressures of fluid surrounding the lungs are out of equilibrium and excess fluid builds up in the pulmonary tissues. Immersion in water can increase the fluid pressure in the capillaries surrounding the lungs, and this pressure differential can be exacerbated by a number of risk factors, leading to an increased risk of edema. By addressing common risk factors such as overhydration, overexertion and hypertension, as well as obesity, divers can reduce the risk of IPE occurring.

Pulmonary Overinflation Syndrome

This condition is typically the result of air expanding during ascent either trapped in a segment of the lungs or due to breathhold. Overinflation can result in a lung barotrauma, which may manifest in a pneumothorax, mediastinal emphysema or an arterial gas embolism. You know that lung overexpansion risk can be reduced by ensuring student divers are medically fit to dive, know how to maintain an open airway and avoid rapid ascents.


Pulmonary Embolism (PE)

PE is another dangerous pulmonary condition that can occur unrelated to diving but may mimic a dive injury. It involves the blockage of blood flow in pulmonary system vessels by fat or blood clots. Pulmonary embolisms typically result in a significant drop in blood pressure and cardiac output. Common symptoms of a pulmonary embolism are chest pain, distension of the neck veins, an altered level of consciousness or fainting. If a diver shows any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.

Acute PE often results in noticeable symptoms, but the slow onset of chronic PE may go unnoticed. Risk factors include recent surgery, heart disease, obesity, smoking and hypertension.

All cases of suspected pulmonary injury should receive a thorough medical evaluation due to of the risk of after-accident complications. For more information on lung health and diving, visit:


One Reply to “Recognizing Lung Conditions”

  1. Thank you!
    It is always helpful to be reminded of the care we must exercise whether monitoring ourselves or taking care of others.

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