New Diagnosis for the Bends

Date: 1/12/2003

A medical breakthrough by Dr Michael Bennett from the University of New South Wales, Australia, may allow doctors to cheaply, easily and accurately diagnose whether a scuba diver has decompression illness. According to Dr Bennett, from UNSW’s Faculty of Medicine and the Department of Diving and Hyperbaric Medicine at Prince of Wales Hospital: ‘When people who dive in remote places become ill there is currently no simple test to see if they have decompression illness. Unable to take the risk of leaving the bends untreated they are flown to a specialist hospital at great expense. Our research may result in a test for the bends that can be done by any doctor, anywhere,’ he said.

The research has found that when a person has been scuba diving they have between 1 and 3 tiny air bubbles in the fluid that lubricates the eyeball, where the ocular tear film gathers in the lower eyelid. If a diver has the bends they often have between 20 and 30 bubbles in the fluid.

Dr Bennett’s study measures the number of bubbles in their eye then uses other methods to diagnose the patient and correlate the information. So far the study has suggested that those who have the bends definitely have more bubbles than those who have been safely diving or who have not been diving at all. ‘We hope that a remote doctor, suspicious that a patient may have the bends, will be able to do a simple, inexpensive examination of the patient’s tear film. Based on the number of air bubbles they will then be able to make a decision on whether the patient needs to be flown out for further treatment,’ Dr Bennett said.

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