DAN Medical Frequently Asked Questions

Back to Medical FAQ List
Bookmark and Share

Decompression Recovery

I received eight hyperbaric treatments for decompression sickness six weeks ago. I was in good physical shape, and I've never had a major injury before. I experienced numbness and tingling in my left arm, hand, leg and foot. This all started about one hour after my dive, and I felt very weak and fatigued. I saw the local doctor and received chamber treatment about four hours after my symptoms started. All of my symptoms were gone before I flew home to the United States, four days after my last treatment.
In the last two weeks I have noticed a return of some of the tingling in my left arm and foot. It comes and goes, but it does not completely go away. Is this a normal side effect of decompression sickness, and should I seek more treatment in the chamber?

According to the DAN 1992 Report on Diving Accidents and Fatalities, slightly more than 50 percent of all decompression illness cases that received hyperbaric oxygen therapy were successfully treated without residual symptoms. The remaining cases had some neurological symptoms or pain for several days or weeks after hyperbaric therapy was completed. On average, 16 percent of injured divers will still have symptoms for up to three months after they have been treated.

Original symptoms sometimes reappear during this three-month recovery period. Divers have reported the recurrence of symptoms after a series of long days at work or school, decreasing amounts of sleep, sitting in one position for long periods of time or after drinking too much alcohol. The most often mentioned symptom is numbness and tingling.
In general, recurrence of symptoms can occur, but this is not necessarily normal. It most likely relates to the severity of the original injury. There are three important issues to remember regarding recovering from decompression illness.

In many cases of decompression illness, the response to therapy is related to the time between symptom onset and chamber recompression.

Divers must do everything they can to assure rapid first-aid measures -- which includes the use of 100 percent oxygen -- and evaluation leading to chamber therapy. It is also important to note that hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a treatment and not always a cure. Divers can suffer mild numbness in a hand or physical impairment that is lifelong.

Thirdly, as in any other injury, some recovery time must be expected before an injury can completely heal. Unlike a traumatic injury that is obvious to the eye, injuries caused by gas bubbles are internal.

The tiny bubbles associated with decompression illness, in sufficient quantities, can do more damage than being hit by a car. Never underestimate the potential for a serious injury when symptoms first appear and always seek immediate medical evaluation.