Pathophysiology, prevention, and treatment of ebullism

Daniel H. Murray, Andrew A. Pilmanis, Rebecca Blue, James M. Pattarini, Jennifer Law, C. Gresham Bayne, Matthew W. Turney, Jonathan B. Clark

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Introduction: Ebullism is the spontaneous evolution of liquid water in tissues to water vapor at body temperature when the ambient pressure is 47 mmHg or less. While injuries secondary to ebullism are generally considered fatal, some reports have described recovery after exposure to near vacuum for several minutes. The objectives of this article are to review the current literature on ebullism and to present prevention and treatment recommendations that can be used to enhance the safety of high altitude activities and space operations. Methods: A systematic review was conducted on currently available information and published literature of human and animal studies involving rapid decompression to vacuum and ebullism, with subsequent development of an applicable treatment protocol. Results: Available research on ebullism in human and animal subjects is extremely limited. Literature available identifi ed key pathophysiologic processes and mitigation strategies that were used for treatment protocol design and outlining appropriate interventions using current best medical practices and technologies. Discussion: Available literature suggests that the pathophysiology of ebullism leads to predictable and often treatable injuries, and that many exposures may be survivable. With the growing number of high altitude and space-related activities, more individuals will be at risk for ebullism. An integrated medical protocol can provide guidance for the prevention and treatment of ebullism and help to mitigate this risk in the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-96
Number of pages8
JournalAviation Space and Environmental Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2013


  • Explosive decompression
  • High altitude
  • Medical protocol.
  • Vacuum

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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