Decompression Sickness Awareness for Scuba Divers

Decompression Sickness Awareness for Scuba Divers

by Pfc. Kelcey Seymour
U.S. Marine Corps

CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan -- The Okinawan seas are filled with many wonders waiting to be explored, yet along with these wonders lies danger, and not just the type with sharp teeth.

Decompression sickness occurs when divers ascend from great depths too quickly, not giving their bodies time to adjust to the change in pressure.

“When you go under water your body still exchanges gas in your lungs,” said Cmdr. Michael Shusko, MD, director of Public Health and General Preventive Medicine, United States Naval Hospital Okinawa. “The pressure under the water has different effects on gases. If you dive too frequently, or if you exceed your time in the water, you can have a buildup of gas.”

In 2016 there were 33 cases of decompression sickness documented in the military community aboard Okinawa. As of July 2017, five cases have been documented.

Symptoms of decompressions sickness can be as mild as headaches and unusual fatigue or as extreme as paralysis or loss of consciousness, and possibly death. A common symptom is tingling or numbness of the hands. If any symptoms are experienced divers should call emergency services immediately for treatment.

“The treatment is to put you in a dive chamber to get you back to that depth and then slowly bring you up so the gases can change properly and be dealt with by the body effectively,” said Shusko.

As long as divers follows the safety rules taught in all diving classes then the risks are minimal, according to Gary Joyce, the scuba program manager with MCCS.

“Know your limits physically,” said Joyce. “Keep track of your dive time. Don’t exercise after a dive, keep hydrated during all parts of the dive, and don’t drink while diving.”

Divers can get more information at www.diversalertnetwork.org, www.mccsokinawa.com/tsunamiscuba, www.kadenafss.com/rec/marina, and www.toriimwr.com/scubalocker. If an emergency happens on-base call 911 or 098-911-1911. If an emergency happens off-base call 119.

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