Scuba divers are commonly susceptible to Decompression sickness, or as it is more commonly known, “The Bends.” This sickness occurs in people who find themselves in a situation that involves a rapid decrease in pressure around the body.
Causes of Decompression Sickness
Decompression Sickness, or DCS for short, occurs when nitrogen bubbles build up in the body. During normal breathing, about 79% of the air we breathe is nitrogen; but as we descend in water, our being submerged in the water causes an increase in pressure, and nitrogen is absorbed into our body tissue. Decompression Sickness is not instantly detrimental and it is possible for the body to continue absorbing nitrogen until the point of saturation – when the pressure in our tissue equals the outside pressure. The problem occurs when pressure needs to be released. To counter the sudden change of pressure, scuba divers must ascend from deep water at a slow pace; taking pauses – or safety stops – if necessary, so that the nitrogen can slowly, steadily and safely leak out from the bodily tissue. Decompression Sickness occurs when the ascent is performed too quickly, as the nitrogen escapes from the body too quickly and forms bubbles within the bodily tissue. Normally, any bubbles within the tissue must be on the arterial side of the circulatory system in order to be harmful, while they are generally harmless when on the venous side of the tissue.
Types of Decompression Sickness
There are several types of Decompression Sickness (DCS), the first of which is characterised by pain but is not immediately life-threatening, and could be a mere warning sign of more serious problems. More serious types of Decompression Sickness include Cutaneous Decompression Sickness, where nitrogen bubbles come out of through skin capillaries, and Joint and Limb Pain Decompression Sickness. The second type is more serious and can be fatal as it affects the nervous system. Neurological, Pulmonary, and Cerebral Decompression Sickness are examples of DCS where the nitrogen bubbles affect the nervous system, lungs, or brain, respectively. Some common symptoms of both types include extreme fatigue, joint and limb pain, tingling, numbness, dizziness, blurred vision, and headaches.
Treatment of Decompression Sickness
Treatment of Decompression Sickness is generally administered on the scene, and consists of oxygen therapy and basic first aid. Recompression treatment in a hyperbaric chamber must immediately follow, and the slightest delay in beginning recompression treatment can be the biggest single cause of residual effects. The best treatment for Decompression Sickness is prevention, so follow these tips. Always ascend slowly and safely from every dive, don’t push your limits, perform all required decompression stops and keep physically fit and within a healthy weight range.
Decompression Sickness Treatment in the Maldives
There are several hyperbaric chambers in the Maldives, including:
- Bandos Medical Clinic and Hyperbaric Centre, Bandos Island Resort, North Male Atoll, Telephone + 960 440 088
- Kuramathi Medical Centre, Kuramathi Island Resort, Alifu Alifu Atoll , Telephone + 960 773 485
- Kandoludhoo Divers Rescue, Kandoludhoo Island Resort, South Ari Atoll, Telephone + 960 773 485