Saturday, September 10, 2011

Decompression Sickness: HBOT for Lobster Divers

Off the remote Caribbean coast of Honduras and Nicaragua, by tradition and out of economic necessity, deep-sea lobster divers of the Miskito people descend 100 to 120 feet, 12 to 16 times a day, to earn about $3 a pound. Every season a few die. Many end up paralyzed from decompression sickness, or the bends. Read "Devoted to Keeping Lobster Divers of Honduras Alive" in today's New York Times, where we meet Dr Elmer Mejía, a former navy diver, nurse, and paramedic, trained in HBOT at Memorial Hermann, Houston, Texas. His clinic provides the first hyperbaric chamber for Miskito divers.

The article also nicely summarizes the cause of decompression sickness and the benefit of hyperbaric oxygen treatment:

Compression [sic] sickness occurs when a diver ascends too fast and nitrogen in the bloodstream that is normally expelled by the lungs forms bubbles. The bubbles can lodge in the joints or along the spinal cord, causing paralysis. A bubble that reaches the brain causes an arterial gas embolism, which can be fatal.

In the hyperbaric chamber, the atmospheric pressure is raised to what the diver would experience underwater and then reduced over several hours as the diver breathes oxygen through a mask, allowing the nitrogen to be expelled.

We're sure you'll find the story worth spending one of your free Times visits this month.

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