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Decompression Illness

Decompression Illness Overview

Decompression illness can develop during scuba diving andoccurs in the following conditions:

  • When gas bubbles become entrapped in the body as a result of rapid ascent
  • After inadequate exhalation during ascent
  • Holding your breath during scuba diving
  • Air trapping in the lungs due to water inhalation or lung diseases

Risk factors for decompression illness include cold, stress, fatigue, dehydration, obesity, old age, exercise, flying after diving, rapid ascents, deep diving, and repetitive diving.

Two types of decompression sickness exist: Type I involves the muscles, skin, and lymphatics. Type II involves the brain, ears, and lungs (typically more serious).

Record all details of recent dive profiles. To help prevent decompression illness, do not fly on an airplane for at least 12 hours after 2 hours of total dive time during the previous 2 days.

Decompression Illness Symptoms

  • Decompression illness symptoms generally begin within 6-48 hours after diving.
  • Type I symptoms include aching of joints, most commonly the elbow and shoulder joints, mottling of the skin, itching, and rash.
  • Type II symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headaches, fatigue, dizziness, numbness and tingling, and chest pain. Less common symptoms include coughing, difficulty urinating, loss of bowel or bladder control, blood in the stools, ringing in the ears, hearing loss, and shortness of breath. Very severe symptoms include paralysis, seizures, slurred speech, loss of vision, confusion, and coma. Death can occur.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/2/2014
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Decompression Sickness »

Although decompression sickness (DCS), a complex resulting from changed barometric pressure, includes high-altitude–related and aerospace-related events, this article focuses on decompression associated with the sudden decrease in pressures during underwater ascent, usually occurring during free or assisted dives.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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