Neurology and diving.
Diving exposes a person to the combined effects of increased ambient pressure and immersion. The reduction in pressure when surfacing can precipitate decompression sickness (DCS), caused by bubble formation within tissues due to inert gas supersaturation. Arterial gas embolism (AGE) can also occur due to pulmonary barotrauma as a result of breath holding during ascent or gas trapping due to disease, causing lung hyperexpansion, rupture and direct entry of alveolar gas into the blood. Bubble disease due to either DCS or AGE is collectively known as decompression illness. Tissue and intravascular bubbles can induce a cascade of events resulting in CNS injury. Manifestations of decompression illness can vary in severity, from mild (paresthesias, joint pains, fatigue) to severe (vertigo, hearing loss, paraplegia, quadriplegia). Particularly as these conditions are uncommon, early recognition is essential to provide appropriate management, consisting of first aid oxygen, targeted fluid resuscitation and hyperbaric oxygen, which is the definitive treatment. Less common neurologic conditions that do not require hyperbaric oxygen include rupture of a labyrinthine window due to inadequate equalization of middle ear pressure during descent, which can precipitate vertigo and hearing loss. Sinus and middle ear overpressurization during ascent can compress the trigeminal and facial nerves respectively, causing temporary facial hypesthesia and lower motor neuron facial weakness. Some conditions preclude safe diving, such as seizure disorders, since a convulsion underwater is likely to be fatal. Preventive measures to reduce neurologic complications of diving include exclusion of individuals with specific medical conditions and safe diving procedures, particularly related to descent and ascent.
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