We humans love our sports, especially when it takes us to the greatest extremes that nature has to offer. SCUBA diving and mountain climbing allow for a challenge and the exploration of realms largely closed to humanity. It would hardly be considered an adventure without risk, of course, and both of these pursuits cause the body to go through large pressure changes, which can lead to a condition commonly known as the bends.
The bends, also known as Decompression Sickness, occurs when ambient pressure changes rapidly, causing the pressure of gases dissolved in tissue to exceed that around the body, come out of dissolved solution, and form supersaturated pockets, also known as bubbles. These bubbles cause different symptoms depending on where their location, but will create disruption wherever they are.
The mildest symptoms are skin eruptions or rashes, a tingling or prickling sensation, loss of sensation, joint pain, and imbalance. More severe symptoms, often presenting within the first 1-3 hours of rapid decompression, include loss of balance, “air hunger”, weakness, loss of bladder or bowel control, shock, and even death.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) has been used to treat decompression sickness for a long time. In fact one of the very first uses for HBOT was treating divers suffering from this condition. HBOT uses pure oxygen under pressure greater than when just standing on solid ground. In the case of decompression sickness, it has an immediate effect on the bubbles that formed, dissolving them back into tissue, and rapidly brings oxygen back to areas that may have been starved when the bubbles disrupted proper blood flow.
Sooner is always better with conditions like this, and is especially true of decompression sickness considering it can be life-threatening on one hand and so easily treated on the other. Every guideline states that someone experiencing the early signs of decompression sickness should seek treatment immediately, HBOT being the main treatment around the world. The sufferer will experience relief from pain within about twenty minutes, with all other symptoms disappearing one after another following that. Severe or complicated cases may require more treatment, and each situation must be assessed on its own terms. It should also be noted that HBOT can be used to treat any lingering or long-term effects as well. Speed is important, but it’s never too late to get results. Our naturopathic doctors are trained and have experience with treating decompression sickness.
Now that you know there is a great treatment for decompression sickness, how about avoiding it in the first place? Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Plan ahead, and then stick to the plan. Stay within specified depths and ascent rate, and never get bored with going over safety protocols.
- Stay well hydrated before engaging in your chosen activity.
- Don’t consume alcohol close to the activity. There is an association between decompression sickness and alcohol consumed the night before.
That is how to stay safe and get help if something does go wrong. If you would like to learn more, or suspect that you or someone you know could benefit from hyperbaric oxygen therapy, contact one of our naturopathic doctors for a consultation.
It’s important to remember that HBOT is a medical procedure, and carries benefits and risks. That’s why the Nardella Clinic screens every potential HBOT patient to ensure maximum safety and effectiveness.