Avoiding Scuba diving’s demons: Nitrogen Narcosis and Decompression Sickness

Just like every endeavour in life; scuba diving as an activity is prone to quite some level of risk. Some people may argue that intentionally diving under water for long is excessively risky. But hey! Getting in an aeroplane and flying at more than 30,000 feet for hour is highly risky too. It’s all a question of perspective. In this post, we are going to consider two of the most common harmful situations that may occur to scuba divers. We will consider their causes, effects, symptoms and possible ways to avoid them and have safer scuba diving sessions. The conditions are Nitrogen Narcosis and Decompression sickness

Nitrogen Narcosis: You may have noticed a similarity with the word “narcotics” Well, here’s an extra fun tip; this condition is also referred to as the Martini Effect. Nitrogen Narcosis is a condition that leads to feelings of intoxication or “highness” while scuba diving.
While Nitrogen gas is specifically mentioned, this condition actually occurs when humans inhale any gas at high pressures; these gases (especially inert gases like Nitrogen) have increased solubility under pressure and dissolve more rapidly within the body. Underwater, the combination of the atmospheric pressure and the pressure of the surrounding water provides a conducive environment for the occurrence of Nitrogen Narcosis. Since underwater pressure increases with increasing depth, Nitrogen Narcosis and its effects are more noticeable at greater depths. In actual fact, the martini effect is almost unnoticeable in open waters.
As stated already, feelings of intoxication and decreased cognitive control are indicators of the onset of Nitrogen Narcosis. The major danger here is the reduced ability of the scuba diver to make decisions and control his/her own actions. You don’t want to be out of touch in your mind some feet below the surface of water.
Want to stop being an alcoholic? Avoiding a bar might be a good idea. Want to prevent Nitrogen Narcosis? Avoiding increased depths is key. A depth of 130 ft. is often considered the limit for recreational scuba diving. For beginners? Be sure to stay strictly within the depth advised by your instructor.

Decompression Sickness
We can easily infer what this condition is about from its name- decompression sickness. In very simple terms, this is a painful condition that relates to the decrease of pressure after a scuba diver starts ascending from some depth.
The root cause of Decompression sickness is basically the formation of bubbles in the bloodstream when gases that were dissolved at high pressure begin to leave as the pressure decreases with decreasing depth. This condition is aided by a quick ascension to the surface. This is because enough time is not allowed for the dissolved gases to leave the body system through the lungs
The most common symptom of decompression sickness is joint pain- commonly referred to as “the bends”. This pain may be felt in the ankles, wrist, shoulders, and elbows. In some cases, there may sight impairment and severe headache.
Similar to Nitrogen Narcosis, avoiding depths is also a good way to stay safe from decompression sickness. More importantly, however, a slower ascension rate to allow enough time for the release of air/gases through the lungs is important in avoiding decompression sickness.

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