Decompression sickness

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What is Decompression sickness?

Decompression sickness is also known as generalized barotrauma, bends or diver’s sickness. The cause is the sudden decrease in the pressure surrounding the body, resulting in gas bubbles under the skin.

Decompression sickness is quite common in deep-sea divers or divers who reach the surface quickly. Decompression sickness can occur to anyone experiencing a sudden rapid decrease in the pressure surrounding their body.  

In Decompression sickness, the release of inert gas bubbles into the bloodstream and tissues due to a decrease in ambient pressure. The sickness can turn out to be a life-threatening one if untreated.

What causes Decompression sickness?

Decompression sickness is the condition caused when the gas forms bubbles in the skin, blood or tissues. This condition is because of the sudden rapid decrease in the pressure surrounding the body surface.

In scuba diving, the air that the diver breathes is equal to the pressure of the surrounding water. If the diver goes deeper and stays longer, then more compressed gas will be absorbed by the body. Then, when the diver reaches the surface quickly without leaving the required time for the gas to expel, it forms gas bubbles in tissues and blood vessels.

The major component of compressed air is nitrogen and oxygen, the oxygen will be used by the cells for respiration, but the nitrogen stays in the body. Only when the pressure decreases, the nitrogen is expelled from the body.  

If the ascending and descending motion is rapid, then the body could suffer several injuries. Decompression sickness is usually diagnosed after scuba diving.

What are the types of Decompression sickness?

Decompression sickness is classified into two types

  Type 1 Type 1 is also known as Bends. In this case, bubbles form in the larger joints of the body. Body movements can trigger pain, but Bends are not a severe condition.
  Type 2 Type 2 is also known as Chokes. It is a severe health hazard that requires immediate medical treatment. In Chokes, gas bubbles are formed in the blood vessels.

What are the symptoms of Decompression sickness?

Pay attention to the following symptoms of Decompression sickness.

  • Weakness
  • Itchy skin
  • Rash
  • Headache
  • Pain in joints
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Joints and muscle pain
  • Stomach pain
  • Fatigue

The symptoms occur about an hour after the scuba dive. There are chances that the symptoms may also occur a few hours or a day after the dive. Notice the symptoms and consult a doctor immediately. The above-shared symptoms are the first step to diagnose Decompression sickness.

How is Decompression sickness treated? 

Decompression sickness is initially treated with a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, where the patient is provided with 100% oxygen. This treatment is used to reverse the pressure changes in the body. So, the treatment aims to change the nitrogen gas to the liquid form, which is then cleared from the body by a gradual process.

Who is at risk of getting Decompression sickness?

Decompression sickness can affect people of all age groups. It affects people who experience sudden pressure changes surrounding the body. Hikers, people who work in aviation flights and scuba divers are at high risk to get the sickness. To prevent Decompression sickness, it is advisable to consult a divemaster before diving.

The following factors increase the risk of developing Decompression sickness.

How to prevent Decompression sickness?

Following are the risk factors that may prevent the risk of developing Decompression sickness.

  • Have a slow and steady ascent during the diving so that the nitrogen dissolves and does not form gas bubbles.
  • Get guidance from a divemaster before starting to dive.
  • Avoid travelling by flight for 24 hours after the dive.
  • Avoid back-to-back dives.

The symptoms of Decompression sickness usually show up within a short period. Do not overlook the symptoms and go for another dive.


We are not aware of certain health complications unless we are subjugated to them. Decompression sickness is common in scuba divers. It is advisable to know the diving methods from a master to prevent complications.

It is well and good to dive with an experienced divemaster. Decompression sickness can be prevented by following the prevention mentioned above. Beware of the changes and symptoms in the body because Decompression sickness is an alarming sickness that seeks immediate medical assistance.


The Information including but not limited to text, graphics, images and other material contained on this blog are intended for education and awareness only. No material on this blog is intended to be a substitute for professional medical help including diagnosis or treatment. It is always advisable to consult medical professional before relying on the content. Neither the Author nor Star Health and Allied Insurance Co. Ltd accepts any responsibility for any potential risk to any visitor/reader.

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