Agent Name

Decompression

Major Category

Physical/Radiation

Synonyms

High-pressure environments; Hyperbaric exposures;

Category

Other Physical Agents

Sources/Uses

Most exposures occur in the underwater environment. Caisson work is becoming unnecessary in recent decades as new engineering methods are being developed. Self-contained underwater breathing apparatuses (SCUBA) and surface-supplied equipment are two main types of equipment used. [Wald, p. 161-84]

Comments

Decompression illness is caused by expanding bubbles released from tissue during ascent from a lower to a higher pressure environment. Type 1 is "the bends" and affects the limbs and skin. In type 2, there is injury to the brain and spinal cord that causes in some cases permanent neurological deficits. Type 3 is aseptic necrosis of the bone (osteonecrosis) reported in up to 50% of divers and causing disability in about 3% of divers. [LaDou, p. 191-3] Decompression tables are helpful, but they do not prevent all decompression illness (DCI). >85% of DCI presents within 10 minutes of surfacing. Dysbaric osteonecrosis is an uncommon chronic complication of diving. For treatment of DCI, the patient should be transferred for hyperbaric chamber treatment. Emergency information is available from the Diver's Alert Network, 919-684-8111. [Wald, p. 161-84]

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Diseases

Occupational diseases associated with exposure to this agent: