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What are the bends?
The bends, also known as Decompression Sickness, is an illness where nitrogen bubbles form in the blood in recreational divers. When breathing compressed air at depth (the scuba tank), more gas molecules of air are inhaled than when above land since the pressure of the water and the pressure of the air must be equal. Most of the extra oxygen is metabolized and doesn’t cause any problem at recreational depths. However, nitrogen does pose a problem. Since the extra nitrogen has nowhere to go it is dissolved into the blood stream where it remains unless the pressure of the air is released. The bends are not due to the pressure of nitrogen underwater, but instead to the formation of bubbles that form during ascent. These bubbles get lodged in between certain joints and cause much pain.
What Causes Decompression Sickness?
Decompression sickness is caused by going from a high-pressure environment or low-pressure environment at a quick speed. Henry’s and Dalton’s laws predict that as the diver desends, excess nitrogen will enter the blood and all body tissues. These laws also predict that during ascent the extra nitrogen that accumulated will diffuse out of the tissues and into the circulation. The bends arises when excess nitrogen forms bubbles large enough to cause symptoms.
Is the bends the same thing as Decompression Sickness?
No. The bends relates strictly to the pain caused by decompression sickness. The pain is usually in the joints, where the bubbles stay.
How does a scuba diver avoid the bends?
In order for a scuba diver to avoid the bends, a diver must make decompression stops and rise slowly. This way the nitrogen can come out of the blood stream in a slow and controlled way. If a diver does get the bends, they are immediately rushed to a hyperbaric chamber. These are chamber that are re-pressurized to your original depth under water. From then, the pressure is slowly released and the nitrogen is able to slowly leave your body.
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