The first clinical description of decompression sickness, or caissons disease, was made by the French physiologist, Paul Bert, who discovered that breathing gas under pressure forces large quantities of nitrogen into the body. The nitrogen stays in solution as long as the pressure is maintained. But if a diver ascends too quickly, suddenly reducing pressure, nitrogen will come out of solution and may form bubbles in the tissues and bloodstream. These bubbles can create a number of problems for divers.
A major symptom of decompression sickness is persistent joint pain. Other symptoms include: itchy skin rash, primarily where the skin is thin; visual disturbances; motor paralysis; weakness; loss of manual dexterity; vertigo; numbness; respiratory distress; headache; unconsciousness; loss of memory; and nausea. Symptoms usually appear within 15 minutes to 12 hours after a dive.
If you experience any of the symptoms of Decompression Sickness after a dive, do not ignore them. The quicker the treatment, the more chance of a full recovery. Treatment for Decompression Sickness includes oxygen therapy with 100% oxygen and recompression in a hyperbaric chamber.
Prevention of decompression sickness is the most important thing to remember here. Follow the rules, and decompression sickness should never be a part of your diving experience:
- Plan your dive and dive your plan. Do not dive beyond your training.
- Be aware. Constantly observe your computer for depth, remaining time, remaining gas, slow ascents and safety stops (5 meters, 3 to 5 minutes).
- Get ready. Physically prepare for your dive by being well-rested and well-hydrated. Drinks lots of water throughout your diving day.
- Be honest. Honestly evaluate your physical condition.
- Get rest. Do not exercise heavily 6 hours prior to a dive.
- Stay warm. Do not allow yourself to become overly cold during dives. Always wear adequate thermal protection to remain comfortable and keep your blood moving.
SSI also recommends you should always wait at least 24 hours after diving before flying or elevating to altitude (above 2500 meters). If you conduct more than one dive per day for several consecutive days or conduct decompression dives you should extend your time before flying or elevating to altitude to more than 24 hours.
There are also many factors that can interfere with proper absorption and elimination of nitrogen such as sickness, age, alcohol or drug use, extreme heat or cold, old injuries, proneness to blood clotting, obesity, medication, lack of sleep, extreme fatigue and dehydration. If you experience one of these factors, consult with your physician before diving.
Diving safely and conservatively can prevent decompression sickness; avoid risk factors on your dives.