Decompression sickness (DSC, also known as generalized barotrauma, the bends or caisson disease) is as a result of inadequate decompression following exposure to increased pressure. It refers to injuries caused by a rapid decrease in the pressure that surrounds you. In some cases, it presents mildly and not an immediate threat. In other cases, serious injury does occur; when this happens, the quicker treatment begins, the better the chance for a full recovery.

The symptoms include; joint pain, dizziness, headache, difficulty thinking clearly, extreme fatigue, tingling or numbness, weakness in arms or legs, skin rash, etc. Symptoms and signs usually appear within 15 minutes to 12 hours after surfacing; but in severe cases, symptoms may appear before surfacing or immediately afterwards. Delayed occurrence of symptoms is rare, but it does occur, especially if air travel follows diving.

In order to minimize the risk of decompression sickness while diving, it is advised:

  • Dive and rise slowly in the water, and don’t stay at your deepest depth longer than recommended
  • Do not fly within 24 hours after diving
  • Don’t drink alcohol before diving
  • Avoid hot tubs, saunas or hot baths after diving.

Below are steps to be followed in taking care of a diver with decompression illness:

Initial evaluation is done at the dive site to determine the order and urgency of the actions to be taken. A case may be categorized as:

Emergency – symptoms are severe and appear rapidly, unconsciousness may occur and the diver is obviously ill. This is a true medical emergency; stabilization should immediately commence and call for help (activate evacuation).

Urgent – the only obvious symptoms is severe pain. The injured diver would immediately need to be place on 100 percent oxygen and fluids by mouth (no need to attempt to treat the pain with analgesics until advised to do so by medical personnel). Also, there will be need to evacuate the diver or bring into the facility a medical personnel.

Timely – symptoms are not obvious or progressing slowly over several days. It will be required for the diver to see a doctor.


In the Oil and Gas industry, divers carry out a variety of sub-sea tasks and responsibilities to support the exploration and production sector – welding, carrying out inspections, maintenance and repairs of structures.

Offshore diving operations are inherently hazardous, so extensive planning and effective management are necessary to control risk. Most of the operations generally take place at remote sites, and emergency medical facilities may be far away, so it is important to have a robust Emergency Response Plan in place to forestall any fatality.

Also, it advisable to have on site an emergency doctor who is adequately equipped to attend to diving emergencies.  This should include identifying an onshore location where a hyperbaric chamber is located for definitive treatment.

The Flying Doctors Nigeria is able to assist companies with diving and other offshore/onshore operations.

For more information, contact Flying Doctors Nigeria:

  • W: flyingdoctorsnigeria.com
  • E: sales@flyingdoctorsnigeria.com, doctors@flyingdoctorsnigeria.com, management@flyingdoctorsnigeria.com
  • T: 0700 FLYINGDRS/ 0700 3594 64377

Source: Divers Alert Network, Harvard Health Publications