Decompression sickness

15.02.2017 by Felix Wiesel

Decompression sickness (in diving circles also: DC-sickness) happens when the ambient pressure sinks too quickly. This can happen when resurfacing for example. Here you will find out more about how the sickness occurs, what symptoms it involves and what you can do against it.

How does decompression sickness occur?

Through the changed pressure, body cavities can expand themselves (see barotrauma). At least just as dangerous is the changed gas absorption of the body which is linked to it. Due to the low ambient pressure under water, gases in the body are released, which can create bubbles by resurfacing too quickly.

In the blood, these gas bubbles can lead to injuries. Besides that, the nerves and the spinal cord as well as the synovial fluid are endangered.

What symptoms does decompression sickness have?

This diving sickness has diverse symptoms. Among them belong these:

  • Skin: Rashes, ruptured small veins, itchiness
  • Breath: Breathing difficulties
  • Nerves: Impaired vision, cramps, numbness, dizziness, loss of consciousness

There are different degrees of severity of decompression sickness: Thus it is possible that only light symptoms arise up to 2 days after the dive, e.g. skin rashes. In a more severe case though, permanent damage can also occur.

How can I prevent such a sickness?

The general rule is: The more extreme the dive that you are planning, the higher the risk of decompression sickness. You should be aware of this risk. With good preparation and sufficient ascent time you minimise the risk though.

You should respect the following rules:

  • Dives with obligatory decompression should only be carried out by experienced divers!
  • Keep the no-decompression time, then the risk of damage caused to your health is smaller.
  • Plan potential deco stops for the ascent beforehand, so that the air supply is sufficient.
  • Do not exceed an ascent speed of 7 metres per minute. Even in emergency situations, you should not ascend faster than 10 metres per minute. Your diving computer will help you to adhere to this.

How is deco-sickness treated?

As a rule, the victim is given pure oxygen to breathe immediately. The stay in a pressure chamber can also become necessary. Here the victim can slowly get used to the normal ambient pressure.


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