Divers suspected of suffering decompression illness (DCI) in locations remote from a recompression chamber are sometimes treated with in-water recompression (IWR). There are no data that establish the benefits of IWR compared to conventional first aid with surface oxygen and transport to the nearest chamber. However, the theoretical benefit of IWR is that it can be initiated with a very short delay to recompression after onset of manifestations of DCI. Retrospective analyses of the effect on outcome of increasing delay generally do not capture this very short delay achievable with IWR. However, in military training and experimental diving, delay to recompression is typically less than two hours and more than 90% of cases have complete resolution of manifestations during the first treatment, often within minutes of recompression. A major risk of IWR is that of an oxygen convulsion resulting in drowning. As a result, typical IWR oxygen-breathing protocols use shallower maximum depths (9 metres' sea water (msw), 191 kPa) and are shorter (1-3 hours) than standard recompression protocols for the initial treatment of DCI (e.g., US Navy Treatment Tables 5 and 6). There has been no experimentation with initial treatment of DCI at pressures less than 285 kPa since the original development of these treatment tables, when no differences in outcomes were seen between maximum pressures of 203 kPa (10 msw) and 285 kPa (18 msw) or deeper. These data and case series suggest that recompression treatment comprising pressures and durations similar to IWR protocols can be effective. The risk of IWR is not justified for treatment of mild symptoms likely to resolve spontaneously or for divers so functionally compromised that they would not be safe in the water. However, IWR conducted by properly trained and equipped divers may be justified for manifestations that are life or limb threatening where timely recompression is unavailable.
D. Doolette, S. Mitchell
Diving and hyperbaric medicine