Oxygen breathing or recompression during decompression from nitrox dives with a rebreather: effects on intravascular bubble burden and ramifications for decompression profiles

Abstract

Preventive measures to reduce the risk of decompression sickness can involve several procedures such as oxygen breathing during in-water decompression. Theoretical predictions also suggest that brief periods of recompression during the course of decompression could be a method for controlling bubble formation. The aim of this study was to get clearer information about the effects of different experimental ascent profiles (EAPs) on bubble reduction, using pure oxygen or recompression during decompression for nitrox diving. Four EAPs were evaluated using bubble monitoring in a group of six military divers using Nitrox 40% O2 breathing with a rebreather. For EAP 1 and 2, 100% O2 was used for the end stage of decompression, with a 30% reduction of decompression time in EAP 1 and 50% in EAP 2, compared to the French navy standard schedule. For EAP 3 and 4, nitrox 40% O2 was maintained throughout the decompression stage. EAP 3 is based on an air standard decompression schedule, whereas EAP 4 involved a brief period of recompression at the end of the stop. We found that EAP 1 significantly reduced bubble formation, whereas high bubble grades occurred with other EAPs. No statistical differences were observed in bubbles scores between EAP 3 and 4. One diver developed mild neurological symptoms after EAP 3. These results tend to demonstrate that the “oxygen window” plays a key role in the reduction of bubble production and that breathing pure oxygen during decompression stops is an optimal strategy to prevent decompression sickness for nitrox diving.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank the participating divers for their patience; the hyperbaric nurses who helping with the experiments (Denis Maisterrena and Yoann Mykijewicz) and the team of the hyperbaric centre CEPHISMER for their excellent technical assistance during the course of the study.

Conflict of interest

There is no financial or other relationship that might be perceived as leading to a conflict of interest (i.e., affecting author’s objectivity).

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Correspondence to Jean-Eric Blatteau.

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Communicated by Guido Ferretti.

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Blatteau, J., Hugon, J., Gempp, E. et al. Oxygen breathing or recompression during decompression from nitrox dives with a rebreather: effects on intravascular bubble burden and ramifications for decompression profiles. Eur J Appl Physiol 112, 2257–2265 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-011-2195-6

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Keywords

  • Diving
  • Decompression sickness
  • Bubble
  • Oxygen
  • Recompression