What Happens if Divers Don't Decompress?

August 18, 2022 3 min read

What happens if you don't decompress? In this article we'll discuss the No-decompression limit, symptoms and treatments for decompression sickness. Long-term consequences can include difficulty controlling bowel function, permanent damage to the nervous system, and constant joint pain. Decompression sickness can also affect your health in ways you may not have ever imagined.

No-Decompression Limit

The No-Decompression Limit (NDL) for a diver is the maximum depth at which a dive can be completed without decompression. This dive is not allowed to exceed this limit unless the diver has performed previous diving. A diver's tissues will never reach the maximum level of Nitrogen saturation tolerated at sea level, known as the surfacing saturation limit. In computing the NDL for a particular dive, a decompression model is used, which identifies the compartments that need to be decompressed.

During the final few dives of a dive, the NDL must be respected, and a diver must be aware of when he or she is likely to reach it. A diver who exceeds the NDL by a short margin should perform an emergency stop and wait at least 15 minutes before surfacing. The minimum distance a diver may safely descend is about five meters. After this point, a diver should not go back under the water for a minimum of 6 hours, and should preferably not go below his or her NDL.

Symptoms of Decompression Sickness

If a diver does not decompress, symptoms may occur before surfacing, during the ascent, or immediately after surfacing. They may appear as soon as 15 minutes after the dive or up to 12 hours after it ends. Although there is a low chance of developing symptoms during this window, the symptoms may still appear if a diver flies home before the recommended time at sea level.

Nitrogen bubbles in the water create high pressure in the lungs and can interfere with blood flow, causing a condition called decompression sickness. This condition can cause blood to coagulate, become blocked, or even lead to death. In addition to symptoms, decompression sickness can result in severe pain, dizziness, nausea, and a loss of consciousness.


A diver's body can't decompress unless he's stopped breathing to let the nitrogen gas in his blood revert to harmless gas bubbles. This buildup of nitrogen can cause symptoms of decompression sickness, which include red rashes on all parts of the body, numbness, headaches, blurred vision, and vertigo. However, if you've stopped breathing and still are not feeling the effects of decompression sickness, there are several treatments available to help you recover.

The symptoms of decompression sickness are very severe. If left untreated, the symptoms can affect a diver's ability to control bowel movements, permanently damaging his nervous system, and causing permanent damage to his body. These symptoms may even require physical therapy to correct the underlying cause. To get the treatment you need, make sure to stop your dive after at least a half hour, and then re-ascend. This may have to be repeated a few times if you're experiencing symptoms.

Long-Term Effects

Several studies have examined the long-term cardiovascular effects of scuba diving. In one of them, divers and police officers aged 35 to 45 years did not experience significant differences in cardiac function. Nevertheless, six of the subjects had abnormal lymphocytes, which are typical of radiation aberrations. Furthermore, in another, rats exhibited subvalvular aortic stenosis. Despite the relatively recent findings, further investigations are needed to determine the exact effects of diving.

Decompression sickness is particularly affecting veterans who spent time in the sea and flew on unpressurized aircraft. It can have severe long-term effects, including the development of osteoarthritis later in life. Divers who worked as saturation divers during the 1960s and 1970s are particularly prone to the effects of decompression sickness, because of the lack of safety measures and equipment. Other symptoms include vision loss, headaches, seizures, and confusion.

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