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Big Blue Diving - Koh Tao - Thailand - What are 'The Bends'? | 4/6/18

What are 'The Bends'?  |  4/6/18


‘The Bends’, or decompression sickness to give its proper name, is one of the few dangers to be aware of when scuba-diving. Every diver out there dreads The Bends, and we all take a number of precautions to help keep it at bay every single time we dive – but what exactly is it and how do we avoid it?

Decompression Sickness

When on a normal recreational air-dive, the scuba diver is breathing in approximately 79% nitrogen and 21% oxygen. As we dive deeper, the increased pressure means this nitrogen is absorbed into our body tissue. This isn’t a problem for our bodies when we’re under these pressures, but if that pressure is reduced too quickly the nitrogen can form bubbles which enter the bloodstream and tissues, leading to The Bends. It's similar to what happens with a fizzy soft drink - when the pressure is released by when it’s opened, bubbles are quickly formed. If you think about how violently gas explodes out of a shaken can or bottle, you get a sense of the potential damage that can be done to the body.

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The most common way of getting The Bends (named due to the pain often felt in the joints of your arms or legs) is by going over the decompression limits set on your dive computers or tables, or getting too close to them. However it can also occur even when the diver has followed all the guidelines on the odd occasion.

The bubbles that enter the body tissues lead to a range of symptoms, which usually emerge soon after you surface. Pain is often the first sign, usually in the joints and muscles. Other symptoms include unpleasant itchiness, skin rashes (caused by bubbles in and under the skin) as well as headaches, dizziness, visual impairment, confusion, problems with balance/coordination and nausea. In cases with a great amount of bubbles, lungs can become congested and even brain damage and heart attacks or death can occur.

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How to avoid The Bends?

The best way to avoid it is to religiously follow the recommended rate of ascent set by your dive computers!  Failing that treatment comes in the form of painkillers for very mild cases, having the divers breathe pure oxygen (which helps speed up the rate that the nitrogen leaves your body), or the use of a hyperbaric or recompression chamber, which expose the sufferer to high pressure causing the nitrogen bubbles to safely leave the tissues.

Finally you should avoid flying within 24 hours of your last dive, as aircraft that are not fully pressurised at altitude can cause nitrogen bubbles to form, even if there was no problems before the flight.


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 Fisherman Alejandro Ramos Martinez with the funniest 'Bend' ever


Other Things Keep The Bends Away

  • Never dive right to the limits set by you dive computer, it’s best to always start your ascent at least a few minutes before you reach them.
  • The older you are, the less efficient your circulatory system becomes less efficient, which affects the elimination of nitrogen.
  • If you’re a bit of a fatty (or big-boned like me) you should know that nitrogen dissolves easily into fat tissue, so chubby funsters may absorb more nitrogen when diving.
  • Diving in cold water can cause your extremities to receive less circulation as they cool, which also effects nitrogen elimination.’
  • Don’t dive drunk or high! This is something we should never be doing anyway as your judgement will definitely be impaired, but it also makes you dehydrated and raises the heart rate, increasing the risk of those pesky bubbles forming.
  • Taking a hot shower or bath after a dive cause your capillaries to dilate, which will draw blood away from other areas which then eliminate nitrogen more slowly.


Safe diving folks!

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Read 121 times Last modified on Monday, 04 June 2018 11:18
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