What is decompression sickness? How can it be avoided?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Decompression sickness, usually afflicts scuba divers, or pilots and astronauts; in effect, any profession or activity in which the body is subjected to extreme differentiations in atmospheric pressure – transitions between pressures too rapidly, without allowing for a gradual equalization of pressure.  Also known in scuba diving parlance as “the bends,” decompression sickness occurs when the body absorbs nitrogen through artificial breathing apparatuses like those used by pilots and divers while the level of atmospheric pressure is rapidly reduced, causing bubbles to form in the bloodstream as well as in human tissue.  That is why scuba divers are trained to ascend to the surface slowly, in order to give their bodies time to adjust to the changes in pressure.  Pilots, mainly military aviators flying high-performance fighter aircraft, wear pressure suits that automatically adjust the level of pressure on the individual’s body in accordance with his or her speed and maneuvering.  As the aircraft is flown faster and faster, the pressure suit regulates the amount of pressure the pilot’s body absorbs, thereby helping him or her to retain consciousness when performing certain maneuvers.  Scuba divers, of course, cannot dive while wearing pressure suits (although deep-sea diving, which involves the use of a weighted suit tethered to a surface vessel with a long oxygen hose, does provide an apt parallel to flight), so they learn to regulate their airflow as necessary while being very careful not to ascend from deeper depths to the surface so fast that their bodies can’t adjust to the changes in pressure. 

eli468 | Student

Decompression sickness is a disorder where nitrogen is dissolved in the blood and tissues of the body due to stronger pressures than the body is used to. During diving the air in the diving bottles gives a large amount of nitrogen due to the diver breathing air at a higher pressure that if they were at the surface of water. Altitude-induced decompression sickness is due to the same thing with nitrogen. The bubbles from the nitrogen are," due to exposure to low barometric pressures" causing mostly nitrogen to dissolve into the body.

Ways to avoid decompression sickness are:

  • Limiting the depth and duration of deep sea dives
  • Following a standard diving guideline
  • Avoiding diving if you are obese, pregnant, have heart or lung problems, or have had a recent joint or limb injury
  • Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption within 24 hours before diving
  • Avoiding flying within 24 hours after deep sea diving
  • Avoiding repeated dives within a 12-hour period
  • Avoiding flights in a nonpressurized aircraft

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