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What Is Dysbarism?

Health Risks & Commercial Diving

According to the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), commercial divers face a multitude of unique health and safety hazards. Dysbarism refers to an adverse side effect suffered by divers who are exposed to rapid changes in air pressure. Dysbarism may affect the human body in a variety of ways:

  • Gas Narcosis
  • Gas Toxicities
  • Pain
  • Decompression Sickness
  • Dysbaric Osteonecrosis

Gas narcosis is the result of nitrogen dissolving into the nervous tissue. This type of damage is usually sustained when the diver is more than 120 feet underwater. Generally speaking, the severity of nitrogen narcosis is determined by the diving depth. Additionally, the symptoms of the narcosis are different depending on the level of submersion. At first, the diver may show signs of slowed reasoning ability. This symptom is usually suffered if the diver reached a depth of at least 100 feet. At 150 feet, the diver may experience joviality and slowed reflexes.

At 200 feet, the diver may be subject to a euphoric state, the inability to concentrate and drowsiness; at 250 feet, the diver may experience confusion and inaccurately observe the world around him/her. At depths of 300 feet, the diver may become stupefied and lose perceptive faculties. Gas toxicities are caused by oxygen and carbon dioxide. When a diver is exposed to rapidly changing ambient pressure, his/her brain and lungs may become damaged by oxygen. This condition is symptomized by coughing, substernal soreness, and pulmonary edema.

Sometimes, divers experience pain as a result of expanding or contracting trapped gasses in the body. This symptom can be damaging and may occur while the diver is ascending from substantial depths or descending into the water. Decompression sickness (DCS) is identifiable by joint pain, altered skin sensations, dizziness, headache, loss of coordination, weakness, coughing, and painful breathing. Commonly, these symptoms are referred to as bends, staggers, and chokes. Sometimes, dysbaric osteonecrosis is diagnosed as DCS. Dysbaric osteonecrosis involves bone lesions. Typically, these lesions occur in the body's long bones. It is a chronic disease.

Taking Measure to Avoid DCS

Decompression sickness is the most common adverse health affect suffered by commercial and recreational divers. Although it is unpleasant, mild forms of DCS can be treated at the dive site and individuals who suffer from it usually recover fully. In some cases, individual suffering from DCS will need treatment in a decompression chamber - sometimes called a hyperbaric chamber or recompression chamber.

To avoid DCS, divers should avoid making more than three dives per day. Additionally, they should ascend / descend cautiously and slowly. This may require safety stops every five metros or so. Additionally, divers should avoid doing hard work before diving or immediately after diving and should be in good physical condition. Divers should avoid changing altitudes (such as flying in an airplane) for 24 hours following a dive.

Dysbarism Treatment

If a diver suffers from DCS, he/she will probably be treated with an oxygen mask. Additionally, divers suffering from DCS should be given a substantial amount of water. If the diver is unconscious, medical attention should be sought immediately. In order to plan a safe commercial dive, divers and their employers must take care to follow all OSHA guidelines related to commercial diving. Commercial diving can be safe when safety guidelines are followed.

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