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The Risks of Diving With Nitrox

Submitted by admin on 2012-02-21

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The word "nitrox" is used when describing a gas mixture made up of nitrogen and oxygen. In scuba diving it is more effective to reduce the levels of nitrogen in the body as this allows for longer dive time and also reduces the risk of decompression complications. Due to this fact, nitrox mixtures, used in scuba diving, contain higher than normal levels of oxygen.

When embarking on a scuba dive, it is important to be aware of the potential risks of diving with and handling nitrox. Nitrox is not suitable for deep dives as the increased percentage of oxygen becomes toxic if breathed at high pressure. The maximum depth allowed for dives will vary when using nitrox. This will be determined by the type of breathing equipment used as well as the type of dive. The risks of diving with nitrox is not quite as great with experienced, professional divers as they can often withstand higher levels of oxygen than is usually advised for the recreational divers.

In order to reduce the risks of diving with nitrox, every diver should have maximum buoyancy control. It is also vital to plan and execute the dive systematically, ensuring that the pp02 is known, so as to avoid exceeding the maximum operating depth.

Divers are taught to use basically two depth limits, to protect themselves against the risks of diving with nitrox. The first, being the shallower depth, is known as the "maximum depth". This is reached when the partial pressure of oxygen in the gas gets to 1.4 bar (140kPa)
The second, deeper depth, is reached when the partial pressure reaches 1.6 bar (160 kPa). The risks of diving with nitrox at this depth or deeper could cause the diver to be exposed to CNS (central nervous system) oxygen toxicity.

Although most divers are trained to be aware of signs such as tunnel vision, nausea, feeling of light headedness, hearing problems or difficulty breathing, they can still be caught off guard as this is often brought on without any warning or symptoms are confused with those of nitrogen narcosis. The diver could stop breathing and lose consciousness. Convulsions or seizures induced by oxygen toxicity can occur while the victim is still unconscious but has resumed a rapid or heavy breathing pattern. This is where the risk of diving with nitrox could have a fatal outcome -the regulator could fall out of the mouth and lead to drowning. After such an episode, the diver may experience exhaustion, lethargy or amnesia. To help minimize the risks of diving with nitrox, it is advised to ascend to a shallower depth if experiencing any of the symptoms previously mentioned.

An important point to remember when trying to decrease the risk of diving with nitrox, is for divers to make sure that they check the oxygen percentage content of their nitrox cylinder every time before a dive. If this differs from the value on the cylinder by even 1%, the diver should re-evaluate the bottom times of the dive, in accordance with the mix. Alternatively, to prevent either decompression sickness or oxygen toxicity, it may be advisable to abort the dive all together.

Another risk of diving with nitrox is the fact that as the gas contains larger volumes of oxygen than air, it is to be regarded as a fire hazard. Carbon monoxide can also be produced when these gases react with hydrocarbons inside the cylinder.

Although there are some risks involved when diving with nitrox, it is possible to experience a safe and fulfilling dive if the diver is aware of the potential dangers which could be encountered and all safety guidelines are strictly adhered to.


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