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The Bends Scuba Diving Disease

Pioneer divers working underwater over 100 years ago called it "caisson disease". But today, "the bends" describes a scuba diving condition known as decompression sickness (DCS).

Decompression sickness is one of the common diving injuries and results from a failure to decompress adequately after prolonged exposure to increased pressure (e.g. scuba diving).

What Exactly is The Bends Diving Hazard?

Until quite recently, little was known about the causes and treatments of the bends underwater diving hazards and decompression diving.

The bends occur when dissolved gases (usually nitrogen) come out of solution following over-exposure to underwater pressure and the diver makes a speedy ascent to sea level.

Or put another way, rapid depressurisation allows the inert gas to form tiny bubbles which can travel through the body.

Gas bubbles "migrate" through the bloodstream producing disease-like symptoms, especially skin rash, joint pain, and paralysis.

Pro Tip: Even though scuba diving accidents are not a common occurrence, all divers should know how to handle suspected cases of decompression illness (DCI). In fact, any severe attack of the bends diving disease can lead to death.

Signs and Symptoms of DCS

Decompression sickness symptoms may occur immediately after surfacing or they can take up to twenty four (24) hours to show up.

In general, a diver with suspected DCS will experience some symptoms between fifteen (15) minutes and twelve (12) hours after diving. Typical DCS manifestations include:

Important: You should provide emergency oxygen for any diver with a suspected case of DCS (without delay) and contact DAN or the nearest medical services (EMS).

Diving Techniques to Prevent The Bends

The best way to avoid getting the bends diving disease is to dive within the accepted no-decompression exposure limits (NDL's), follow a safe ascent rate, and to perform a safety stop at five (5) metres for at least three minutes - longer if possible!

It is true to say that dive tables and dive computers track diver exposure times and ascent speeds. However, they do not guarantee any prevention or protection against the bends decompression sickness (DCS).

Pro Tip: Exposure to altitude, especially flying after scuba diving, too soon after surfacing can increase the risk of decompression sickness.

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