The Most Prominent Symptom of Decompression Sickness

Last Updated: November 10, 2022

Deep-sea diving or scuba diving is an exciting activity. It makes you feel adventurous and gives you a thrill. But like any activity, it too has its disadvantages. Several scuba divers complain of something called decompression sickness.

What is Decompression Sickness?

Decompression sickness is something that occurs underwater. Your body feels, in literal terms, decompressed. There is an immense rise in pressure around you. It destabilizes you completely and can be extremely painful.

What Causes Decompression Sickness?

Decompression sickness is mainly caused due to the lack of oxygen and dehydration. It is mainly caused by nitrogen bubbles building up in your joints, tissue, and blood. It makes your body ache and essentially you bend over because of the pain in your joints. That is why it’s also called the bends.

It can also be caused by coming up to the surface too quickly. Because when you come up rapidly, the pressure increases and doubles you down.

The Most Prominent Symptom

Admittedly the most prominent symptom of decompression sickness is joint pain and is extremely painful. According to Mark Powell in Deco for Divers, 89% of decompression sickness patients have joint pains as the most prominent syndrome. Although joint pain is the most prominent symptom, that can last for days even weeks in some cases, a joint X-ray or blood test doesn’t help much in diagnosing decompression sickness. You need to divulge your diving history and all symptoms.

Some Other Common Symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Dehydration
  • Numbness
  • Skin Irritation
  • Dizziness
  • Disorientation
  • Lack of clear thinking
  • Pulmonary issues like choking
  • Visual disturbances

How to Prevent Decompression Sickness

common decompression sickness symptom

As we say, prevention is always better than cure. To prevent decompression sickness, make sure to be prepared before diving. Do not stay in your deepest portion of the dive longer than recommended. Follow the instructions of your diving instructors to the point. Make sure to be rested and hydrated before your dive.

Alcohol or tobacco before venturing for a dive is strictly unadvisable. And do not fly immediately after a dive. Saunas and hot water baths should be avoided, too, after diving.

If you have any serious medical issues like a heart defect, hypertension, diabetes, or asthma, it is advised to consult a doctor before swinging into the adrenaline rush of deep-sea diving. People with groin hernia are advised to skip the dive altogether due to the expanding gas that is common in a hernia.

How Long Does it Last?

Decompression sickness symptoms can occur almost immediately after the dive, especially if you fly immediately after the symptoms are starkly visible. In minor cases, the symptoms disappear after 6 hours. Maximum it lasts is 24 hours. This is in case of mild condition. Although, the mild symptoms need to be treated immediately. They will not disappear on their own. Consult a doctor immediately if you face any symptoms of decompression sickness.

In severe cases, the symptoms could be life-threatening and can lead to loss of consciousness or can even be fatal.

Long-term Effects of Decompression Sickness

While decompression sickness could disappear after a few days of diving, for some people, the effects could be long-term. Mostly, all symptoms are treatable with 100% oxygen and a hyperbaric chamber. The treatment of recompression and oxygenating can cure all the symptoms. Well, the world is filled with exceptions galore. So, some long-term effects of decompression sickness symptoms include:

  • Neurological dysfunction
  • Paralysis
  • Severe joint soreness
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Loss of bladder and bowel control


Decompression illness is treatable. If gone misdiagnosed or untreated, the chances of long-term effects mentioned above are more likely. The moment you face any symptoms after diving, consult the doctor immediately.

Do not confuse it with simple wearing out or tiredness. Make sure that wherever you choose to dive has all the proper facilities to treat these symptoms too. When you venture to the sea for diving, ensure that you have 100% capacity of oxygen at hand.

Most mild symptoms that occur in the first part of a dive can be treated with 100% oxygen and rehydration. Some cases will need an onsite recompression chamber for a duration of approximately 288 minutes. This timing depends on the severity of the symptoms.

While most symptoms should disappear after oxygenation and recompression chambers, they still need to be evaluated. If they persist, you need to consult the doctor and go in a hyperbaric chamber to treat the sickness. Hyperbaric chambers are high-pressure vaults to deliver oxygen.

Final Word

The most prominent symptom of decompression sickness is joint pain coupled with a few other symptoms. If you want to dive after recovering from decompression sickness, consult your physician before you do so. It is advised that you skip diving altogether if you’re feeling sick each time you dive.

Look after yourselfs and take all precautions, adrenaline-seeking divers!

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