How To Identify Decompression Sickness — AKA The Bends

August 23, 2021 2:08 PM | Howard Ratsch (Administrator)

How To Identify Decompression Sickness — AKA The Bends

By Scuba Diving Editors

This article represents the views of the authors.  The article has not been fact checked by myself, the Board of Directors or any member of the USA Dive Club.

Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, education and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing.

"I'm bent." They're the two hardest words any diver ever says. But denying the symptoms of decompression sickness (DCS) could mean you end up with the four hardest to hear: "Can never dive again."

Relaxing at the pool after a morning of diving, you notice a nagging ache in your shoulder. Is it DCS or a muscle strain from lugging gear bags? Time for a little self-diagnosis:

Do I have any symptoms of DCS?

These include but are not limited to:

  • Joint or limb pain
  • Itching
  • Skin rash
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Extreme exhaustion

Clearly, these symptoms are not specific to DCS, so move to the next question:


How Likely Are These To Be Symptoms of DCS?

You did only a single half-hour dive to 40 feet that morning — how could it be DCS? Easy: during the last five days you’ve done 15 dives. The more diving you’ve been doing, the more likely it is to be DCS. The more you’ve pushed the edge of no-decompression status, the more likely it is DCS. The more safety stops you’ve blown off, the more likely it is to be DCS. Any of those apply?

I'm Still Not Sure. What Can I Do?

This is easy: Call DAN’s emergency number (+1-919-684-9111) if you need some expert assistance

in deciphering your symptoms. DAN has doctors on call 24 hours a day who can help you arrive at a decision about your symptoms.

I Know I Have The Bends. What Should I Do?

Start breathing oxygen and have someone call DAN’s emergency number immediately: (919-684-8111). The DAN staff can help you arrange for transportation to the nearest chamber. DAN will help you even if you have not purchased DAN insurance, but you won’t like the five-figure bill you may have to pay. Or the possible delay in emergency evacuation because the helicopter company wants its money up front since you don’t have insurance, Considering how little we actually know about the mechanism of DCS, anyone diving without dive accident insurance is taking unnecessary health and financial risks.

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