Can You Get The Bends or Decompression Sickness from Snorkeling

What is the bends/decompression sickness?

Decompression sickness (DCS; also known as divers’ disease, the bends, or caisson disease) describes a range of injuries that can occur to divers, and other persons who work in pressurized environments, when the body tissues are exposed to a decrease in barometric pressure. The most common form of DCS is “type II” DCS, also known as arterial gas embolism (AGE), which results when gas bubbles enter the arterial circulation and block small arteries.

What causes the bends/decompression sickness?

Decompression sickness (DCS; also known as divers’ disease, the bends, or caisson disease) is a condition brought on by reduced pressure. DCS most commonly occurs during ascent from a dive, but it may also occur during descent, and even during a stop at constant depth. It commonly occurs in association with ascent from air dives, but can also occur with the use of nitrox or trimix mixtures during scuba diving or saturation diving.[1][2] When dissolved gases come out of solution, bubble formation can cause tissues to be mechanically disrupted, and block blood vessels. Ischemia follows, and depending on the severity of tissue gas saturation (bubbling), this can manifest in symptoms ranging from joint pain and skin splashes (known as hitos), paralysis and death. If milder forms are not recognized early and treated properly, more severe forms including paralysis and death may follow.[3][4]

There are two main types of DCS: arterial gas embolism (AGE) and decompression sickness proper (DCS proper).[5] AGE is caused by bubbles forming within arteries, while DCS occurs within other tissues and spaces in the body. The two types share many symptoms, but differ in their treatment and prognosis. In general AGE is considered more serious as it has a higher risk of immediate death or permanent disability.

DCS was first described in 1670 by British physician Johnannah Mandeville while he was treating workers who had been working in unpressurized caverns mining saltpetre for gunpowder.[4][6][7] It was not until 1841 that French physiologist Paul Bert concluded that it was caused by changes in pressure.[8]

How can you get the bends/decompression sickness from snorkeling?

The bends, also known as decompression sickness, is a condition that can occur when a person ascends too quickly from deep water. It happens because nitrogen bubbles form in the blood and tissues. When these bubbles reach the brain, they can cause paralysis, strokes, and even death.

What are the symptoms of the bends/decompression sickness?

The bends, or decompression sickness (DCS) occurs when nitrogen gas bubbles form in the blood and tissues. This happens when divers come up from a dive too quickly. The symptoms of the bends can range from a mild joint pain to paralysis and death.

Snorkeling does not put divers at risk for the bends because they are not exposed to the high pressures found at depths where DCS is a risk. However, snorkelers may be at risk for other types of decompression sickness, such as air embolism, which can occur when they hold their breath while ascending to the surface.

How can you prevent the bends/decompression sickness?

Decompression sickness, also called “the bends,” is a condition that can occur when divers ascend too quickly from deep waters. The condition is caused by dissolved gases coming out of solution in the blood and tissues. The most common gas involved is nitrogen, which composes 79 percent of air.

The human body can tolerate small amounts of nitrogen, but if too much nitrogen comes out of solution, it can form bubbles in the blood and tissues. These bubbles can block blood flow or damage tissue. Symptoms of decompression sickness range from mild (joint pain) to severe ( paralysis).

Decompression sickness is preventable. Divers can prevent the condition by ascending slowly from depth and by allowing time for their bodies to “off-gas” nitrogen between dives.

What should you do if you think you have the bends/decompression sickness?

If you think you might have the bends/decompression sickness from snorkeling, the first thing you should do is get out of the water. If you are still in the water, ascend slowly and stop at least 10 feet below the surface. If you are on a boat, climb onto the boat. Once you are out of the water, call for help.

What is the treatment for the bends/decompression sickness?

If you think you have the bends/decompression sickness, you should go to a hospital emergency room immediately. There, you will be treated with 100% oxygen. If that is not available, air will do. The next thing that will happen is a chamber will be used to slowly bring the atmospheric pressure back up around you. This treatment may take several hours or days, and it will help relieve the symptoms of the bends/decompression sickness.

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