Scuba diving bends symptoms can set in unexpectedly and, depending on the severity of the condition, they can cause anything from significant discomfort to death. Known mainly as decompression illness (DCI) it is a condition that arises when excess dissolved gases come out of solution as a result of rapid decompression (usually when returning to the surface after a dive) and affect various functions of the body. Knowing what the bends really are and keeping in mind the precautions and procedures that can help you reduce its impact on your body are essential in avoiding the problem even before it begins.
Sudden exposure to the lower pressure of the surface or surface water can lead to DCI quite fast. Deep ocean divers often use complex, gradual decompression procedures to prevent this. Generally, the higher the difference between the pressure exerted on your body, the higher the chances of DCI setting in. Scuba diving bends causes mainly have to do with deeper, lengthier dives, during which a greater amount of gas can be absorbed into the body through the skin tissue. Also, in the case of multiple dives, the main cause can be the speed of the ascent and the shorter period of rest between dives.
In most cases, decompression doesn’t have great negative repercussions on the body, aside from a few uncomfortable symptoms, such as shoulder, elbow or knee pain, itching or swelling of the skin, increased fatigue, headaches or slight dizziness. More severe cases of scuba diving bends, however, can also lead to dangerous symptoms and effects that could impair the diver’s perception of reality or motor functions. Severe dizziness, urinary incontinence and visual impairment may be possible symptoms, while in some severe cases the brain can be affected, causing confusion, seizures and unconsciousness. Long term negative effects on the bones such as dysbaric osteonecrosis may also be possible, even as a result of a single rapid decompression experience.
To protect yourself against DCI, it’s important to take a few precautions prior to diving. Staying properly hydrated before a dive is one of the most significant recommendations experts have to offer. You can also use a dive computer to carefully time and calculate all the important aspects of your session. Finally make sure to have a safety stop at about 5 meters or 15 feet from the surface and maintain a slow ascent speed. Scuba diving bends can also be avoided if you don’t do any strenuous exercise after diving, if you avoid dives entirely in bad weather or when you’re feeling unwell, and if you make sure you never ignore any uncomfortable symptoms during the dive.