ALTITUDE-INDUCED DECOMPRESSION SICKNESS ON KINDLE Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
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Tiny Bubbles, BIG Troubles
Decompression sickness (DCS) describes
a condition characterized by a variety of
symptoms resulting from exposure to low barometric
pressures that cause inert gases (mainly nitrogen),
normally dissolved in body fluids and tissues, to
come out of physical solution and form bubbles.
DCS can occur during exposure to altitude (altitude
DCS) or during ascent from depth (mining or diving).
The first documented cases of DCS (Caisson
Disease) were reported in 1841 by a mining
engineer who observed the occurrence of pain and
muscle cramps among coal miners exposed to airpressurized
mine shafts designed to keep water out.
The first description of a case resulting from diving
activities while wearing a pressurized hard hat was
reported in 1869.
Altitude DCS became a commonly observed
problem associated with high-altitude balloon and
aircraft flights in the 1930s. In present-day aviation,
technology allows civilian aircraft (commercial and
private) to fly higher and faster than ever before.
Though modern aircraft are safer and more reliable,
occupants are still subject to the stresses of high
altitude flight—and the unique problems that go with
these lofty heights. A century and one-half after the
first DCS case was described, our understanding
of DCS has improved, and a body of knowledge
has accumulated; however, this problem is far from
being solved. Altitude DCS still represents a risk to
the occupants of modern aircraft.