Underwater Exploration: Decompression Sickness-The Bends University of Wisconsin Sea Grant
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Physical and Medical Problems in Diving

The Bends (Decompression Sickness)

As divers found ways to descend deeper and stay underwater longer while breathing compressed air, they began to suffer a new and unexplained sickness. After returning to the surface, divers sometimes would experience dizzy spells, difficulty breathing, or sharp pains in the joints or abdomen. The diver would usually recover after a period of time, but in some cases might never be completely free of some of the bad effects.

This malady was first called "caisson disease," named after the caissons or large underwater chambers in which underwater construction workers often worked. However, caisson workers on the Brooklyn Bridge project in New York gave the sickness a more descriptive name that has remained ever since: the bends. The term likely described the " bent over " posture of the suffering diver. Today, the bends or decompression sickness is the most well-known danger of diving.

Learn more about the decompression dilemma

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