The Bends/Decompression Syndrome Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on January 25, 2020

Call 911 if the person has any of the following symptoms within an hour of surfacing from a dive:

  • Confusion
  • Severe dizziness
  • Tingling or numbness of hands or feet
  • Visual or speech disturbances
  • Difficulty walking
  • Signs of altered consciousness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Unconsciousness

After calling 911 for immediate symptoms, take the following steps.

1. Administer CPR, if Necessary

  • For a child, start CPR for children.
  • For an adult, start adult CPR.
  • Use supplemental oxygen while administering breathing, if available.
  • Position the person on their left side in case the person vomits.
  • Keep the person on 100% oxygen until help arrives.

2. Contact Divers Alert Network (DAN]

  • Call 1-919-684-9111 or 1-919-684-4DAN (4326). Experts can advise you and the medical facility on further treatment.

3. Watch for Symptoms if They Didn't Appear Immediately

  • Symptoms usually appear within 6 hours, but may appear later.
  • Increasing joint or torso pain or other symptoms can cause severe long-term disability.
  • If you have questions, call DAN at 1-919-684-9111 or 1-919-684-4326.
  • Avoid flying, traveling to higher altitude, or diving for 12 to 24 hours.

4. If Symptoms Appear in the Next Few Hours

If the person has severe pain but no obvious neurological symptoms or other distress:

  • Call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room.
  • Put the person on 100% oxygen, if available, until you get medical help.
  • Be prepared to provide information on dive(s), symptoms, and treatment already received.

5. If Symptoms Appear Later

If symptoms progress slowly or aren't obvious for days:

  • Call DAN or a medical facility for advice, or go to the nearest hospital for evaluation.

6. Follow Up

Hospital follow-up will depend on the severity of symptoms.

  • The person will receive oxygen.
  • The person may be placed in a recompression or hyperbaric chamber.