Decompression sickness: a guide for emergency nurses
Intended for healthcare professionals
Evidence and practice    

Decompression sickness: a guide for emergency nurses

Stephen McGhee Associate dean for nursing undergraduate programs and associate professor of clinical, School of Nursing and Health Science, University of Miami, Florida, United States
Juan Manuel Gonzalez Director, Family Nurse Practitioner Program, University of Miami, Florida, United States
Carmen Rosa Presti Director of Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, University of Miami, Florida, United States
Robert Hare Student affiliations manager, Scholars Department, Baptist Health, Florida, United States

Why you should read this article
  • To understand the causes and underlying pathophysiology of decompression sickness

  • To recognise the signs and symptoms of decompression sickness, including the difference between Type I and Type II

  • To enhance your knowledge of the nurse’s role in the initial management of decompression sickness

Decompression sickness (DCS) is commonly associated with diving or occupational exposure to compressed air, and is a life-threatening condition if left untreated. This article provides an overview of the pathophysiology and types of DCS. It also explains the principles of care for people presenting to the emergency department with DCS that emergency nurses must be familiar with, including the recognition of its signs and symptoms and the initial management required. It is important that emergency nurses are aware of the optimal treatment protocol for DCS, which involves its early recognition, prompt administration of high-flow oxygen and referral to the nearest hyperbaric chamber for recompression.

Emergency Nurse. doi: 10.7748/en.2019.e1989

Peer review

This article has been subject to external double-blind peer review and has been checked for plagiarism using automated software


Conflict of interest

None declared

McGhee S, Gonzalez JM, Presti CR et al (2019) Decompression sickness: a guide for emergency nurses. Emergency Nurse. doi: 10.7748/en.2019.e1989

Published online: 05 November 2019

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