Avoiding Decompression Sickness When Diving

Decompression-SicknessDiving is perhaps one of the most fascinating sports. Unlike many other sports, which have been studied allowing us to know how it will affect the human body, scuba diving relies on theory, theories that have worked for many years but never the less – theories. To say that even the most studied experts in our field know exactly what is going to happen to a given diver for a given dive would be a bit of a stretch. The topic most commonly discussed or debated is decompression sickness and how to avoid it.

The first thing to be clear on is thousands of dives are conducted every year, ranging from a shallow dive along a reef in 10m/30ft of water to exploring a deep shipwreck in 100m/300ft, and they are completed without incident. Just looking at the depths and conditions it is easy to see the vast differences in these dive profiles, factory in some other variables such as: age, health, PFO, hydration and we have a very complex situation. This still begs the question; how do we reduce the chances of DCS?

Over the years divers have implemented many strategies to decrease the odds of Decompression Sickness here is a short list of possibilities:

  • Deep stops
  • Slower ascent rates
  • Staying well hydrated
  • Not drinking alcohol
  • Avoiding caffeine
  • Using helium based breathing gasses for all phases of the dive

While every one of the above certainly cannot hurt, there is no silver bullet to avoiding DCS. The vast majority of divers only dive once or twice a year. What’s more, these divers tend to ‘binge’ dive, meaning they do 25 plus dives in a week on the wrecks in Truk Lagoon. They are commonly on holidays during this time, and while diving is their primary goal, they are also enjoying the down time and celebrating while not in the water. One more important factor is, these holidays are taken during colder months at their home location. Thus,exposure to sun is limited, which results in more than just a sunburn – it also increases dehydration, along with the celebrating of course.

In the past ten plus year’s decompression planning software has come a long ways and now most programs give the user the ability to set their conservancy level. While most of the time divers tend to set conservancy based on personal preference, they should also be considering environmental conditions and their own anxiety levels. Divers should follow this basic rule: if the dive is going to be challenging due to water temperature, visibility or current or if this is a new dive and you are nervous, plan the dive using a higher conservancy setting.

The best piece of advice would be to listen to your body and dive conservatively. If you feel like you are getting run down or something doesn’t feel right, take a dive off – this advice applies to all divers, not just the holiday makers. Diving is supposed to be a fun and enjoyable sport, not an endurance or competitive one. Too much exercise during, between or after dives is not a good thing. Enjoy those surface intervals; share your pictures, download your video or just pass the time with some dive buddies and relax. When you feel up to it, make the next dive and it will be that much more enjoyable.

DCS is a part of diving. But if you add in a little conservancy to your dives and pay attention to how you feel, the odds are in your favor. Enjoy your passion and get out and dive!

Learn More: Decompression Procedures Diver >

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