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How to avoid decompression sickness when diving

Find out how you can enjoy safe diving by following these safety rules when you are in the water


Those of us who dive as a hobby or when overseas on holiday, for example, should be aware of the potential dangers of decompression sickness.

The symptoms of decompression sickness may develop after long dives and/or dives to great depths, especially if the diver returns too fast to the surface without adhering to decompression tables.

The symptoms are caused by the formation of nitrogen bubbles between body tissue and within the bloodstream itself. These bubbles may result in the blocking of blood vessels in various organs, i.e., the lungs and the central nervous system, and individual symptoms depend on the organ affected.

  • The Bends : "The Bends" is the most common severe symptom of decompression sickness and presents itself as pain in and/or around major joints, i.e., the shoulders, elbows, hips and knees.
  • The Chokes : Is a serious manifestation of decompression sickness, and presents itself as "a feeling of tightness or constriction" around the chest.
  • The Creeps : Consists of skin symptoms with itching and rashes.
  • Neurological symptoms : Are very serious manifestations of decompression sickness, due to the central nervous system being affected, and may include paralysis, loss of sense of feeling and convulsions.
  • Visual disturbances : i.e., blurred vision, in which nitrogen bubbles affecting the blood supply to the eyes cause partial loss of vision or sudden total blindness.

Those who believe they are suffering from decompression sickness should seek medical attention in relation to the appearance of any acute symptoms within 24 hours of diving. A specialist in "diving medicine" should evaluate the symptoms.

Patients with decompression sickness are normally treated in a decompression chamber (hyperbaric chamber).

"On-the-spot treatment" of decompression sickness consists of immediate rest, oxygen and, where possible, intravenous fluids. The patient should be evaluated by a specialist in diving medicine without delay and be sent to a decompression chamber for treatment.

Flying after diving

To be on "the safe side", the following rules for commercial flying are recommended for SCUBA- divers (Self-Contained-Underwater-Breathing-Apparatus) displaying no signs of decompression sickness.

  • Diving without required decompression stop: (0 -) 12 hours.
  • Diving with decompression stop 24 (- 48) hours,
    depending on the profile of the actual dive.

Recommencing air travel after suffering from decompression sickness depends on the severity and duration of symptoms and treatment and should only be after consultation with a specialist in Diving Medicine.

However, as a general rule of thumb, patients with acute symptoms due to decompression sickness may recommence air travel after ten days.

In addition to the general safety rules, the following rules are recommended for safe and enjoyable diving:

  • Always examine your equipment carefully and never allow adjustments to be made to it by unqualified persons, both before and after your dive
  • Never dive alone
  • Always know in advance how to deal with any emergency
  • Always plan your dive carefully and use decompression stops as recommended in the decompression tables according to the profile of your dive
  • Never dive deeper and/or longer than originally planned
If any symptoms or adverse health reactions occur, immediately consult a specialist in diving medicine for evaluation and advice.