Diver continued diving even with possible skin bends


Diving began on Thursday and most of the dives were relatively deep in the range of 90-120 feet (25-35m). The first day, I made three day dives and one night dive. All surface intervals were two hours or more. For all dives, everybody on board was using EAN 32.

On Saturday, I noticed that I was feeling itchy on my torso after the second dive. I felt like scratching myself, but decided not to. After the third dive which was a bit shallower, I noticed that I was no longer itchy. This phenomenon repeated itself over the next five days. After two dives on Monday, I felt itchy again. On this particular day we were given the option to visit an island or do a third dive. I opted to visit the island. After walking on the island for about an hour the itchiness seemed to disappear.

At first I thought it could have something to do with the saltiness of the water and completely ignored the itchiness. I had a dermatologic antibiotic ointment and cream which I rubbed over the itchy area. However this did not relieve the itchiness. As I continued to think about the itchiness, skin bends came to my mind. However, I did not have mottled skin and itchiness did not turn to pain on the torso.

On Wednesday, the last day of diving, the first dive was at a depth of 120ft (36m). The second dive was at a depth of 113 fsw (34 msw). After the second dive, I again felt itchy. I made a third dive two hours later, touching 81 fsw (25 msw). However the major part of the dive was at 51 fsw (16 msw). I came up from this dive and again was relieved of the itchiness. I suppose the smartest thing to do when I felt I might be getting bent due to the itchiness was to request oxygen which was available on the boat. I did not do this because I thought there may be an extra charge for using oxygen and also I would be prevented from diving for the remainder of the trip as a safety precaution. This was the most expensive dive trip I have ever taken and therefore I did not want to have to stop diving. However common sense would have dictated that it was better to stop diving than be flown to a chamber at excessively high cost.


Mere itchiness without other signs or symptoms is not a common manifestation of decompression sickness. Even so, if the diver suspected decompression sickness then there were a number of risk-reduction strategies that the diver might have considered, such as making shallower dives, ascending well before nearing the no-decompression limit, making fewer dives per day, and/or having longer surface intervals between dives. DAN also recommends every diver carry adequate insurance when taking a dive holiday, to greatly reduce economic concerns in situations such as in this incident.

~ Peter Buzzacott, MPH, PhD

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