How to Recognize Decompression Sickness

How to Recognize Decompression Sickness
11 Jul 2018

How to Recognize Decompression Sickness

If you’re not brand new to diving, you’ve heard of decompression sickness. It’s called DCI, but you may have heard it referred to as BENDS. This is what happens when a diver doesn’t take enough time to come up from their dive.It can cause everything from tiredness, skin itching, to death if not addressed. It’s one of the dangers that go along with exploring our beautiful oceans. Make sure it’s never a danger you come face to face with by educating yourself below.

What is Decompression Illness?

It’s an umbrella term for two different illnesses. Both decompression sickness (DCS) and arterial gas embolism (AGE) fall under its umbrella. DCS is the more common of the two. It’s also called “the bends” or “caisson disease”. It’s what happens when you don’t acclimate your body to lesser pressure as you come up from a dive.As we dive deep, the body absorbs nitrogen from the breathing tank. We absorb more of it as we go deeper and the surrounding pressure increases. This is fine, it doesn’t hurt us, as long as we give our bodies time to get rid of the nitrogen. If you don’t stop every fifty feet or so coming up and let yourself acclimate, you get “Bends”. The nitrogen from muscles comes out and bubbles into your tissues and bloodstream. These bubbles dissipate on their own, given time, but can get into joints if you move too fast.The joint bubbles we worry about cause joint pain, contractions, numbness, and paralysis. It can even create a nitrogen bubble around the spinal cord or brain. These are when injuries get serious. If too many bubbles enter your blood at once your system goes into shock.

Symptoms of Decompression Sickness

If you’re not taking your time to come up from your dive, your body will let you know. We hope you’ll never feel these things, as we encourage educated diving, but here are the symptoms to look out for

Early Symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Itching Skin
  • Joint pain
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness, tingling, paralysis
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unusual muscle contractions

Out of Water Symptoms

  • Blotchy-rash
  • Confusion
  • Amnesia
  • Tremors
  • Trouble peeing
  • Bizarre behavior
  • Collapsing
  • Staggering
  • Coughing up blood

As you can see from the list of symptoms, decompression is nothing to play with.


Getting treatment for decompression sickness means a re-compression chamber. Usually called a BENDS unit. Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Florida is famous for their bends treatment and research. Their doctors work with researchers from the University of Florida. In a Bends unit, your body will be re-pressurized to where you were in the ocean or an appropriate amount. The unit will gradually decompress as you’re inside. This re-creates what your body should have gone through under water. It gives the body time to reorganize and treats the symptoms.

Preventing DCS

The best way to treat decompression sickness is to never get it! Make sure you’re always diving with professionals and that your school addresses risks. Listen to your instructor when they teach you how to re-pressurize and do what they say.

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