What’s a decompression stop?

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Decompression stops are necessary for divers to allow the body to release dissolved gases and prevent decompression sickness. Divers use software or calculations to determine the length and depth of stops, and may use special gas formulations. Flying after a dive can also cause decompression sickness.

A decompression stop is a pause in a diver’s ascent made to allow the body to express dissolved gases in the blood. Without decompression stops, these gases expand, forming bubbles and causing decompression sickness. Decompression stops are a key part of safe deep water diving, with the length and depth of these stops varying depending on the depth and duration of the dive. Typically, more than one decompression stop is required.

When people dive, their bodies are put under immense pressure as they go under the water. For every 30 feet (10 meters), an additional “atmosphere of pressure” is added, meaning someone 60 feet (20 meters) below is experiencing the equivalent of three times the pressure at sea level. At some point, the pressure becomes so intense that the human body cannot survive, although no one has determined the precise point at which someone would die from the pressure. On the way to the bottom, the gases in the human body dissolve into the blood, thanks to the immense pressure.

When a diver ascends, these compressed gases begin to expand. If a diver ascends sharply, the gases expand so rapidly that the body cannot eliminate them safely and the diver develops decompression sickness. Therefore, divers make a series of decompression stops to allow their bodies to acclimate to the decrease in pressure. At each decompression stop, the diver breathes normally, allowing the release of dissolved gases.

Many divers use computer software to calculate decompression stops, although it is also possible to do the calculations by hand. Since most people dive with a buddy or group for safety reasons, people usually do their calculations independently and then compare to confirm they have established a safe schedule of decompression stops. At regularly used dive spots, there may also be markers in the water to indicate sites for decompression stops, and a decompression stop may also have a decompression trapeze on which a diver can rest for the duration of the stop.

Sometimes a decompression stop can be shortened by breathing a special oxygen-rich gas formulation known as “decompression gas” or “decompression gas”. Breathing gas with a high oxygen level is dangerous in deep water, so decompression gas is usually very clearly labeled so a diver doesn’t accidentally use it. Decompression can also be done in a hyperbaric chamber, a chamber that can be pressurized and controlled, allowing the diver to slowly get used to the sea level pressure.

Curiously, some divers have developed decompression sickness when flying immediately after a dive. This is because even with decompression stops, the body could still acclimate to sea level pressure and most aircraft are under pressure, so flying is equivalent to ascending from a deep dive very quickly. For this reason, after a deep dive or series of dives, it is a good idea to wait at least twelve hours and sometimes even more.

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