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What is decompression illness, and how does it affect you?

One of the biggest risks in commercial diving is a medical condition called decompression illness. Divers with good training and experience should be able to avoid this illness by monitoring how deep they dive and how quickly they surface. However, in emergencies, someone may have to rise more quickly than is advised. Mistakes could also be made that lead to decompression illness.

Decompression sickness is a disorder commonly known as “the bends.” It happens when the nitrogen that is normally dissolved in the blood forms bubbles because of the sudden decrease in pressure. It typically develops when divers surface too quickly and results in a sudden drop in pressure around their bodies.

Decompression illness affects many people — including scuba divers, aviators and even astronauts. If you will be diving, you should learn about this disorder and how to avoid it.

Decompression is essential as you move toward the surface. When you dive, you should make sure you have enough oxygen left in your tank to make several stops on your way to the surface. If you don’t stop enough and take the time to decompress, then large numbers of bubbles may enter the bloodstream and cause circulatory shock.

Some symptoms of decompression illness include:

  • A blotchy rash on the skin
  • Vertigo
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in the joints
  • Itchy skin
  • Paralysis
  • Staggering
  • Coughing up blood
  • Collapse
  • Confusion

These symptoms can arise as soon as 15 minutes after surfacing. Sometimes, in severe cases, they can actually happen before surfacing or immediately following surfacing.

If you develop this condition while doing your job, the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act may help you get the compensation needed as you recover.