Friday, April 24, 2009


Decompression Sickness, commonly referred to as "The Bends," is an ailment caused when dissolved gasses in the body turn into bubbles when atmospheric pressure on the body is decreased. Symptoms vary depending on where in the body the bubbles form.

In a typical case of The Bends, the bubbles form in the joints, where they push apart the tissues causing localized deep pain which can range from a mild to tingling to excruciating agony. When the bubbles form in the brain or spinal chord, the victim can experience neurological symptoms such as tingling or burning, vision distortions, paralysis, headaches, seizures, or confusion and memory loss. Bubbles in the lungs can cause breathing difficulties, a dry cough, and chest pain (which is aggravated by breathing.) Sometimes bubbles can form in the skin, which causes rash, swelling and the sensation of insects crawling in the skin.

Decompression Sickness is caused by reduction of pressure around the body. This can occur when someone leaves a high pressure environment (e.g., moving from a hyperbaric chamber to a normal room), when someone ascends from great depths, as at the end of a scuba dive, or when someone ascends to a great altitude without proper pressurization.

Mild cases of Decompression Sickness require medical attention, but often will disappear without intervention. More acute cases of The Bends, especially those affecting the lungs or nervous system might require hyperbaric oxygen treatment. In hyperbaric treatment the body is pressurized to a point where the bubbles dissolve and then gradually brought to lower pressures so that the body can recalibrate to the new pressure without producing bubbles.

When a diver receives hyperbaric treatment for the bends, it is unlikely that his or her health insurance will cover the treatment. Diving is considered a high risk activity. So, resulting expenses for medical emergencies will often come directly from the victim's pocket. Hyperbaric treatment costs thousands of dollars.

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