Last reviewed: June 2020
Last updated: March  2018



History and exam

Key diagnostic factors

  • musculoskeletal pain
  • numbness
  • tingling
  • paresthesia
  • nonspecific constitutional symptoms
  • muscular weakness
  • paralysis
  • rash

Other diagnostic factors

  • headache
  • ear or sinus pain
  • dizziness or vertigo
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • shortness of breath
  • tachypnea
  • difficulty in walking
  • reduced hearing
  • middle ear bleeding or tympanic membrane perforation
  • pruritus
  • reduced level of consciousness
  • crackles
  • wheezing
  • reduced breath sounds
  • subcutaneous emphysema

Risk factors

  • diving or other activity involving increased atmospheric pressure (decompression illness)
  • increasing depth and duration of dives (decompression illness)
  • strenuous exercise during diving (decompression illness)
  • rapid ascents (decompression illness)
  • multiple ascents (decompression illness)
  • missed safety stops (decompression illness)
  • repetitive diving (decompression illness)
  • altitude exposure (decompression illness)
  • right-to-left shunt (decompression illness)
  • dehydration (decompression illness)
  • cold temperature (decompression illness)
  • hot temperature (decompression illness)
  • high body fat content (decompression illness)
  • increasing age (decompression illness)
  • menstruation (decompression illness)
  • poor physical fitness (decompression illness)
  • recent physical injury (decompression illness)
  • carbon dioxide retention (decompression illness)
  • failure to equilibrate pressure (barotrauma)
  • breath-holding during ascent (barotrauma)
  • lung disease (barotrauma)
  • eustachian tube dysfunction (barotrauma)
  • sinus ostia blockage (barotrauma)
  • incorrect autoinflation (barotrauma)
  • trapped gas in or near teeth (barotrauma)
  • Fallopian canal dehiscence (barotrauma)
  • deep diving (nitrogen narcosis)

Diagnostic investigations

Investigations to consider

  • tympanometry
  • electronystagmography
  • facial x-rays
  • ECG
  • echocardiography
  • CBC
  • blood glucose
  • carboxyhemoglobin
  • creatine kinase
  • D-dimer
  • CT of the head or spine
  • CT of the sinuses
  • CT of the chest
  • MRI
More investigations to consider

Emerging tests

  • subclavian Doppler ultrasound
More emerging tests

Treatment algorithm


Medical Director

London Diving Chamber and Midlands Diving Chamber

Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth




OMF declares that he has no competing interests.

Dr Oliver M. Firth would like to gratefully acknowledge Dr John D. King, the previous contributor to this monograph. JDK declares that he has no competing interests.

Peer reviewersVIEW ALL

Head Otoneurology Unit

Carmel and Lin Medical Centers




AS declares that he has no competing interests.

Staff Hyperbaric Physician

Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre


Nova Scotia



JRFC declares that he has no competing interests.

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