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Decompression sickness

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment
Filed under: Diving, Scuba
Decompression sickness can happen at altitude with loss of pressure. Know the symptoms.

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
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Confusion
  • Memory loss
  • Dizziness
  • Visual abnormalities
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • 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.

Healing through scuba

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
Scuba diving is being used to help wounded warriors get back in the swim of things and on with life.

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!

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