Diving issues: What is gas toxicity?

Gas toxicity is known to occur while diving. Issues while diving might originate from the toxic consequences of gases such as oxygen, nitrogen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. It is important to note that air is a combination of gases, chiefly oxygen and nitrogen with minimal traces of the other gases. Every gas has its own partial pressure subject to its strength in the air and on the atmospheric pressure. Both nitrogen and oxygen can trigger detrimental effects at high partial pressures.

Various forms of gas toxicity

Oxygen toxicity

This occurs when the partial pressure of oxygen reaches 1.4 atmosphere which is equal to slightly over 187 feet depth when breathing air. Even though oxygen toxicity rarely occurs in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, divers who utilize incorrect concentrations of oxygen during deep dives face the risk. The symptoms include the following:

  • Focal seizures
  • Tingling sensation
  • Vertigo
  • Tunnel vision
    Gas toxicity

    Nausea and vomiting are indications of oxygen toxicity.

  • Nausea and vomiting

The condition can be prevented by using a special mixture of gas and special training is required.

Nitrogen narcosis

Nitrogen narcosis is triggered by high partial pressure of nitrogen. The symptoms of this form of gas toxicity are strikingly similar to alcohol intoxication where the individual has poor judgement, becomes disoriented and even euphoric.

The individual might not surface on time or even swim deeper. This effect is evident at 100 feet in some divers who breathe compressed air and can be debilitating at 300 feet.

Carbon dioxide toxicity

This occurs if a diver does not increase his/her breathing adequately during exertion. Some retain carbon dioxide since the compressed air at depth is denser and entails greater effort to move it via the airways and breathing apparatus. Remember that voluntary reduction in the breathing rate to conserve air can also lead to the buildup of carbon dioxide in the blood. The indications of this type of gas toxicity include:

Carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide is the product of combustion. The gas can enter the diver’s air if the air compressor intake valve is positioned too close to the engine exhaust or if the lubricating oil in a faulty compressor becomes too hot to partly combust, resulting to the release of carbon monoxide. The symptoms of this form of gas toxicity include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Clumsiness
  • Weakness

In severe cases, this type of toxicity can result to seizures, loss of consciousness and even coma.

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