Filed under: Diving
Decompression sickness (DCS), also known as “the bends,” is well known to occur in divers. However, it also can occur in aviation, especially when there is a sudden or unexpected loss of cabin pressure above 18,000 feet. DCS occurs when the dissolved gases inside the body come out of solution to form bubbles. As these bubbles move throughout the body, problems occur. There are different types of DCS, but here are some common symptoms to be aware of:
- Localized or deep pain in the large joints
- Itching or the sensation of insects crawling on your skin
- Memory loss
- Visual abnormalities
- Loss of balance or vertigo
- Dry, persistent cough
If you suspect DCS, first land safely as soon as you can. Treatment may involve breathing oxygen or time in a hyperbaric chamber. If you ever experience these symptoms after a loss of pressurization above 18,000 feet, contact your doctor or emergency room as soon as possible and report your recent exposure.
Physical and mental rehab for wounded warriors can come in the form of an undersea adventure. A 2011 study at Johns Hopkins University looked at the effects of a four-day scuba certification class on a group of veterans with spinal injuries. The benefits noted included improved muscle movements, reduction of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, and improved sensitivity/sensation for those with certain spinal cord injuries.
Being in the water offers a zero-gravity environment that enables Warfighters to develop the confidence and ability to do activities they may not feel comfortable doing on land. There are organizations that provide scuba lessons and outings for wounded veterans and their families free of charge, such as Adaptive Heroes, Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba (SUDS), and Divers4Heroes, to name a few. Check for programs in your area and explore the great unknown!
Pentagon scientists are hoping to build special gear designed to turn divers into veritable Aquamen (and Aquawomen). Although it’s still in the research phase, the new system would protect divers from the adverse effects of diving too deep or surfacing too fast. Sensors would read and adjust to a diver’s physical signs as well as help control levels of nitric oxide to prevent the decompression sickness known as “the bends.” When a diver ascends too quickly, bubbles form inside the body, which can block the blood vessels in the spinal cord and disrupt the nervous system. It can be very painful and can lead to joint pain, paralysis, and even sudden death if a diver is not careful.
The new diving gear will be a portable and versatile system that can potentially serve for use in other special operations as well as for civilian divers. This system will have to be designed for the most extreme combat dive profiles, which sometimes require a 35,000-meter free-fall from an aircraft, diving 200 feet below the surface for at least two hours, surfacing, and immediately diving again, followed by continued protection after being picked up in an unpressurized aircraft. This is one of DARPA’s most recent Small Business Innovation research proposals for 2013.