Breathing at depth: physiologic and clinical aspects of diving while breathing compressed gas

Clin Chest Med. 2005 Sep;26(3):355-80, v. doi: 10.1016/j.ccm.2005.05.001.


When diving, human beings are exposed to hazards that are unique to the hyperbaric underwater environment and the physical behavior of gases at higher ambient pressure. Hypercapnia, hyperoxia, carbon monoxide intoxication, inert gas (predominantly nitrogen) narcosis, and decompression illness all may lead to impaired consciousness, with a high risk of drowning in this non-respirable environment. Proper physiologic function and adaptation of the respiratory system are of the utmost importance to minimize the risks associated with compressed gas diving. This article provides an introduction to the diving techniques, the physics, and the pertinent human physiology and pathophysiology associated with this extreme environment. The causes of the major medical problems encountered in diving are described, with an emphasis on the underlying respiratory physiology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Barotrauma / etiology
  • Barotrauma / physiopathology*
  • Diving / adverse effects*
  • Diving / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases / etiology
  • Lung Diseases / physiopathology
  • Pressure / adverse effects