One of the obvious benefits to SCUBA diving over free diving is that we can bring a tank of air down with us, allowing for longer bottom time. However, there are some increased risks to using your lungs under pressure, and in order to prevent damage and take care of your favorite breathing apparatus, it helps to know a bit about how lungs work.
We are born with two lungs, which are organs inside of our rib cages. These organs function as lubricated sacs and are quite elastic; they can expand with an inhale and compress with an exhale. Your trachea sends air from your nose and mouth down into the lungs. We inhale air, and the lungs take the oxygen from the air and disseminate it through our bodies in our blood stream. Red blood cells rich with oxygen travel through our arteries , providing fuel to our muscles, and then circle back in our veins with carbon dioxide waste product to be exhaled
Breathing, which can also be called gas exchange, is essential for our life. Just because we want to stop breathing for a bit doesn’t mean that we can do it forever. Breathing is involuntary, but we can also make certain aspects of it voluntary. We can choose to take bigger, deeper, or longer breaths. WE can choose to hold our breath for a period of time. We can choose to hyperventilate, or to slow our breaths.
When we dive we put literal pressure on our bodies, including our lungs. Luckily, they are elastic and do not need to be “equalized” like our sinus cavity or mask spaces. However, our lungs can be overextended and rupture- which is why it is essential to never hold your breath when you surface, and to breath slowly and continuously through every dive. Air held in your lungs during ascent will expand as the pressures lessens and eventually over extend your lung capacity.
Not holding your breath isn’t the only rule- I mentioned previously breathing slowly and continuously, but you should add deeply to that list as well. Short, shallow breaths slow down or prevent the elimination of Carbon Dioxide from our blood, which can cause light headed-ness or even loss of consciousness. Loss of consciousness under water leads to one very serious side effect- drowning. Longer, deeper breaths also allow for more effective use of oxygen in our blood stream/muscles. We have limited air under water on a dive- so use it effectively.
How can you help your lungs work to their full capacity? Practice deep breathing by counting your inhales and exhales. Place a hand on your stomach and feel your diaphragm muscles working. Practice good posture to allow for your lungs to have their full space. Stay hydrated to keep the lining in your lungs as thin and productive as possible. Exercise regularly to increase your lung capacity.
Our lungs play an important role in our every day life, and they play an important role in our diving health and enjoyment. Treat them well, and may they continue to treat you well-