What is the bends?
The bends, also known as decompression sickness orDCS, occurs when scuba divers come up too fast from a dive or stay underwater for too long. Divers breathe a mix of nitrogen and oxygen gas. Under high pressure, the nitrogen dissolves in their blood and tissues. When they ascend too quickly, the nitrogen forms bubbles in their body.
Symptoms of the bends include joint pain, skin rashes, nausea, lightheadedness and fatigue.DCS can be disabling or even fatal if not treated immediately. Treatment involves pressurizing the affected person in a recompression chamber to help reduce the nitrogen bubbles.
What causes the bends?
Divers who ascend too quickly from deep dives can get the bends, or decompression sickness (DCS). DCS happens when nitrogen bubbles form in your tissues and blood. These bubbles can cause joint pain, paralysis, brain damage, and even death.
The bends most often happen to divers who dive without using a tank of compressed air. They may use a breathing apparatus that allows them to stay underwater for extended periods, such as a diving bell or suit connected to an air supply at the surface. The bends can also occur in swimmers who hold their breath for too long while ascending from a deep dive.
Symptoms of the bends include:
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
- Numbness or tingling
How can you get the bends from freediving?
There are a few ways that you can get the bends from freediving. If you dive too deep too quickly, the pressure can cause nitrogen bubbles to form in your blood and tissues. These bubbles can block blood flow and cause pain, paralysis, and even death.
Another way to get the bends is from descending too quickly while holding your breath. This can cause the same nitrogen bubbles to form, but they will be in your lungs instead of your blood. This can cause difficulty breathing, chest pain, and even death.
The best way to avoid getting the bends is to dive safely and slowly. Get professional instruction before you attempt any deep dives, and always use a dive buddy when diving deeper than 60 feet (18 meters).
How can you prevent the bends while freediving?
There are several ways to help prevent the bends while freediving:
- Avoiding sudden changes in depth – for example, by ascent and descent rates that are gradual and slow.
- Staying well hydrated before and during a freedive.
- Equalizing early and often to avoid pressure build-up in the air spaces of the body.
- Avoiding excessive physical exertion during a freedive.
- If you feel pain or other symptoms of decompression sickness, stop diving immediately and seek medical attention as soon as possible.
What are the symptoms of the bends?
The main symptom of decompression sickness is joint pain. It is classically described as “the bends,” but DCS can also cause a wide variety of neurological and cardiopulmonary symptoms.
Symptoms of decompression sickness usually come on within 6 hours of a dive, but they may not appear for 24 hours or more. The condition is generally divided into two types:
Type I decompression sickness: Musculoskeletal symptoms, such as joint pain (particularly in the shoulders, elbows, or knees), back pain, and muscle pain
Type II decompression sickness: Neurological symptoms, such as visual disturbances, headache, dizziness, and weakness
What should you do if you get the bends?
If you get the bends, you need to get to a hospital as soon as possible. You will need to be treated in a decompression chamber, which is also called a hyperbaric chamber. This is a special room that can supply 100% oxygen at high pressure.