In a recent Facebook post we advised that the development of symptoms of decompression illness (DCI) can be progressive, for example, what starts as tingling in the feet can sometimes develop into weakness or even paralysis in the legs, so it’s important to start ‘appropriate’ first aid quickly rather than ignoring the symptoms.
But what does ‘appropriate’ first aid mean in the context of diving? Oxygen first aid can be beneficial for a variety of situations in general first aid but the provision of high concentrations of oxygen is the cornerstone of first aid for decompression illness. Oxygen provision is also very beneficial in other dive-related injuries or illness such as lung rupture, drowning and carbon monoxide poisoning, among others.
As in most first aid, the first step is to assess the diver’s consciousness, airway and breathing and provide CPR if necessary. The next step is the position the diver. An unconscious breathing diver is placed in the recovery position (i.e., on their side). A diver with neurological signs or symptoms would be encouraged to lie down flat. However, if the diver is finding it hard to breath in this position, they should find a position of comfort. Then it is time to administer as close to 100% oxygen as possible, as soon as possible.
DAN AP’s Founder, John Lippmann explains why this is so important:
“Breathing oxygen increases the oxygen supply to any body tissues which are short of oxygen (hypoxic) and help to keep these tissues alive. It will also help to flush out any dissolved nitrogen from the blood and tissues as well as the nitrogen present in bubbles. This reduces the size of the bubbles and so may lessen the damage caused by them. That’s why oxygen first aid should be started as soon as possible. It is important that the concentration of inhaled oxygen should be as near to 100% as possible in order to provide the maximum benefit.”
This is a reason that DAN Asia-Pacific is working to encourage all divers to be pro-active when determining which operators they dive with. You want to make sure that an operator, and their team, is equipped to effectively help you should you need it. And by prepared we mean they have sufficient quantities of oxygen, the correct equipment to ensure you are breathing a high concentration of oxygen, confidently trained staff and an emergency plan in place so there is no delay.
Of course, as part of the first aid process, divers should call a DAN-Supported Diving Emergency Hotline for immediate advice and seek medical aid if advised by the emergency hotline doctor.
The most important element is to take action and NOT ignore your symptoms. There is no detriment to your health in breathing oxygen so get the process started and call DAN for advice.
DAN AP offers a full range of Training Courses including an Oxygen First Aid in Dive Accidents course that will give you the skills and confidence to help yourself and others in the event of a diving incident.
John Lippmann’s ‘Decompression Illness: A simple guide’ is available for purchase through DAN Asia-Pacific. To inquire about purchasing the Guide, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or submit via the webpage above.
Photo credit: Stephen Frink.