Divers' lung function: small airways disease?

Br J Ind Med. 1990 Aug;47(8):519-23. doi: 10.1136/oem.47.8.519.


Pulmonary function was measured in 152 professional saturation divers and in a matched control group of 106 subjects. Static lung volumes, dynamic lung volumes and flows, transfer factor for carbon monoxide (T1CO), transfer volume per unit alveolar volume (KCO), delta-N2, and closing volume (CV) were measured and compared with reference values from recent Scandinavian studies, British submariners, and the European Community for Coal and Steel (ECCS) recommended reference values. Diving exposure was assessed as years of diving experience, total number of days in saturation and depth, and as the product of days in saturation and mean depth. Divers had significantly lower values for forced expired volume in one second (FEV1), FEV1/forced vital capacity (FVC) ratio, FEF25-75%, FEF75-85%, FEF50%, FEF75%, T1CO, and KCO compared with the controls and a significantly higher CV. There was a positive correlation between diving exposure and CV, whereas the other variables had negative correlations with diving exposure. Values for the control group were not different from the predictive values of Scandinavian reference studies or British submariners, although the ECCS standard predicted significantly lower values for the lung function variables both in divers and the control group. The pattern of the differences in lung function variables between the divers and controls is consistent with small airways dysfunction and with the transient changes in lung function found immediately after a single saturation dive. The association between reduced pulmonary function and previous diving exposure further indicates the presence of cumulative long term effects of diving on pulmonary function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Diving / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Lung / physiopathology
  • Lung Diseases / etiology*
  • Lung Diseases / physiopathology
  • Lung Volume Measurements
  • Male
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology*
  • Occupational Diseases / physiopathology
  • Pulmonary Diffusing Capacity / physiology
  • Respiratory Function Tests