Improved Pulmonary Function in Working Divers Breathing Nitrox at Shallow Depths

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Abstract:

Fitzpatrick DT, Conkin J. Improved pulmonary function in working divers breathing nitrox at shallow depths. Aviat Space Environ Med 2003; 74:763–67.

Introduction: There is limited data about the long-term pulmonary effects of nitrox use in divers at shallow depths. This study examined changes in pulmonary function in a cohort of working divers breathing a 46% oxygen enriched mixture while diving at depths less than 12 m. Methods: A total of 43 working divers from the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL), NASA-Johnson Space Center completed a questionnaire providing information on diving history prior to NBL employment, diving history outside the NBL since employment, and smoking history. Cumulative dive hours were obtained from the NBL dive-time database. Medical records were reviewed to obtain the diver’s height, weight, and pulmonary function measurements from initial pre-dive, first year and third year annual medical examinations. Results: The initial forced vital capacity (FVC) and forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1) were greater than predicted, 104% and 102%, respectively. After 3 yr of diving at the NBL, both the FVC and FEV1 showed a significant (p < 0.01) increase of 6.3% and 5.5%, respectively. There were no significant changes in peak expiratory flow (PEF), forced mid-expiratory flow rate (FEF25–75%), and forced expiratory flow rates at 25%, 50%, and 75% of FVC expired (FEF25%, FEF50%, FEF75%). Cumulative NBL dive hours was the only contributing variable found to be significantly associated with both FVC and FEV1 at 1 and 3 yr. Conclusions: NBL divers initially belong to a select group with larger than predicted lung volumes. Regular diving with nitrox at shallow depths over a 3-yr period did not impair pulmonary function. Improvements in FVC and FEV1 were primarily due to a training effect.

Keywords: diving; forced vital capacity; hyperoxia; lung function

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2003

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