Decompression illness – DCS – is the worst nightmare of any scuba diver. It is also one of the biggest risks that people who enjoy this sport run and there are very few divers who have never experienced Caisson’s Disease to some degree at some point in their diving career. There are a number of symptoms to milder forms of decompression sickness, including joint pain and skin tingling. However, in extreme cases, the disease is actually lethal.
What Is Decompression Sickness?
So what is decompression sickness exactly? Basically, it is when the blood in the body is poisoned because it is breathing nitrogen rather than oxygen. This happens when the body is not given enough time to adjust to various atmospheric pressures.
It’s all about the Planning
Never start any dive without having either a dive computer or at least a good dive plan. If you want to avoid decompression sickness, you need to know where you are diving, how deep the water goes and how long you intend to dive. Make sure you stick religiously to your plan as well, that is the basic of preparing yourself. Be conservative and always stick to the side of caution. Leave room for changes, including conditions in the diving site and environmental factors. For instance, the water current may be stronger than you expected.
Be 100% Sober
You are on holiday and you want to have a good time. However, if you want to go diving, make sure you didn’t get drunk, stoned or high the night before, or eve on the day itself. You may think that this is a bit of a given, but you would be surprised at the amount of people that get stoned or drunk and suddenly decide that the best idea in the world is to go diving there and then. Remember that you are breathing compressed air under high pressure of the water and if you drink or do drugs, the way oxygen is carried around in your body is impaired, meaning you could get sick just from diving.
Drink Plenty of Water
One of the keys to avoiding decompression illness is to have a well hydrated body. This is because if the body is well hydrated, it is better able to deal with nitrogen saturation. It is believed that the main decompression illness causes are dehydration and insufficient drinking. People in water often forget that they have to have water on the inside as well. They also forget that they spend a considerable amount of time on the beach before diving, where it is regularly very hot.
You must, at all times, make sure you follow the safety stops and that you ascend at the right rate. Do not ignore the warnings of either your dive table or your dive computer. In fact, the only deviation you can – and perhaps – should do from the information on your computer or table is that you could stay at a spot slightly longer than suggested, just to be safe. Do not, ever, dive at more than 30 feet or 9 metres per minute.
Don’t Fly too Soon
If you are going to dive, and particularly if dive deeply, you should not fly within the next 12 to 24 hours. This is because the inverted pressure of being in the air may cause high nitrogen saturation, leading to decompression illness.
Signs and Symptoms of Decompression Illness
If, for some reason, you feel in any way sick after a dive, make sure you seek medical attention as soon as possible. Some of the signs of decompression sickness depend on whether you have Type 1 or Type 2 decompression sickness. Type 2 is the most dangerous and can even be instantly deadly. Type 1, however is more common, so the decompression illness symptoms will generally point to that. They include rashes and pain in the joints. Decompression illness treatment depends on the type and severity of the illness and can include having to be in a capsule where the air pressure is slowly returned to normal, allowing your body to adjust.
Decompression sickness prevention is more important than treatment. Plan your dive and dive to your plan and you should be fine.