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What’s the Most Prominent Symptom of Decompression Sickness?

Scuba diving comes with a lot of risks, that’s a given. Humans were not made to be underwater unlike our aquatic friends and so when we delve into the water, we enter with a lot of risks ahead of us.  

The risks that we expose ourselves to can be pretty big. For example, when we scuba dive we are pretty much serving ourselves up on a platter to any hungry predator that may be nearby. There of course is the risk of running out of oxygen or just any equipment at all failing on us. There is also the risk of damaging our body parts due to the pressure of the water. However, the biggest and most common risk that divers face when descending into the sea is decompression sickness, but what is decompression sickness, and what is its most prominent symptom? 


What is decompression sickness? 

Decompression sickness occurs during rapid decompression. It is caused when nitrogen bubbles form in the tissues, blood, and around the joints and can be extremely painful. It is commonly known as the bends and can have a number of nasty and destabilizing symptoms.  


The most prominent symptom  

The most prominent and arguably the nastiest symptom of decompression sickness is the pain it causes in the joints. This symptom is what made decompression sickness earn its nickname, ‘the bends’, and can leave the victim unable to move or with horrible spasms. This of course is extremely dangerous when underwater, as you are dependent on movement in order to resurface. The joint pain is caused by nitrogen bubbles forming around the joints and putting pressure on the joint links. This symptom can occur quite rapidly and within a few movements, a diver can find themselves unable to move their legs or arms without experiencing excruciating pain.  

People who experience joint pain are unable to move their neck from side to side, limiting their own visibility and putting them in a world of trouble. This symptom of decompression sickness is considered the most dangerous because it completely takes away your mobility, which is a necessary tool when you are underwater.  Other symptoms can be dealt with as long as you have a diving buddy with you, but no matter how much time you have practiced along with how long it takes to learn scuba, nobody can prepare for having to help an immobile human resurface. 


Other symptoms of decompression sickness 

Now that you know about the most prominent symptom of decompression sickness, you may be wondering what other symptoms you can expect to encounter if you are exposed to decompression sickness. 



Fatigue is not far behind joint pain as one of the worst symptoms of decompression sickness. The fatigue can seemingly pop up out of nowhere and is the last thing you want when you are several meters underwater. Scuba diving is a strenuous activity that requires you to put some work in to be able to navigate around the water. If you find yourself in a position where you are feeling tired and lack energy, then you are in trouble. Unless you have a special device to help with buoyancy, ascending back to the water can be difficult- especially if you are experiencing fatigue. As soon as you start to feel even remotely exhausted, it is recommended that you work your way closer to the surface. 



Another nasty symptom of having decompression sickness is headaches. Headaches can usually be managed by taking the necessary pills and having a glass of water and a sit-down. However, you can’t exactly do that when you’re underwater so they can be quite a pain. Having headaches can also cloud your judgment, which means you may take more risks that could compromise your safety and so if you start to experience headaches, you should quickly remove yourself from the water and try to recoup.  



If you start to feel numbness in your limbs, then you could be experiencing decompression sickness. Generally speaking, numbness is never good to have, even on land. This can challenge your movement and make even basic swimming difficult. Body numbness may even lead to depersonalization, as your surroundings around you won’t feel entirely there.  


Clouded thoughts  

Clouded thoughts and confusion is another very dangerous symptom of decompression sickness. One of the main things that you will depend on during scuba is being able to think on your feet and react quickly to any circumstances. Not being able to think straight may also lead to some sort of injury, so be sure to look into what to wear under a rash guard so that you have some extra layers of protection under your wetsuit. Also be sure to scuba with a buddy, as they will be able to tell if you aren’t acting yourself.