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What is a Decompression Chamber

Submitted by admin on 2009-10-05 | Last Modified on 2010-04-07

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Decompression chambers are pressure vessels used by scuba divers to allow them to complete decompression stops at the end of their dive. These chambers serve as a tool for divers to adjust their bodies to normal surface pressure without the risk of long underwater decompression.

Decompression chambers are also known as recompression chambers or hyperbaric oxygen therapy chambers. These names are used interchangeably to reflect the purpose of the machine. Recompression chambers are used to treat divers from diving disorders, or when they develop decompression sickness, while hyperbaric oxygen chambers are mainly used in hospitals for patient treatment. Whatever the purpose these vessels are used for, their main capability is to adjust and readjust the atmospheric pressure according to the needs of the people inside the chamber.

For technical and advanced scuba divers, especially those from the Navy and research institutions, decompression chambers are a vital part of their daily work experience. Divers who frequent the seas always face the danger of uncertain waters. The deeper the diver goes, and the greater atmospheric pressure that he is placed under, the longer time he needs to decompress before surfacing.

Increased atmospheric pressure affects the diver’s chemical balance. Our body absorbs nitrogen faster when we go deeper under water. Too much nitrogen in our body can lead to decompression sickness and possible death. This is the one hazard that divers are concerned with when they go deeper.

As they ascend to the surface and leave deep waters, divers normally stop at designated decompression points to acclimatize their body to the decreasing pressure. This is also the same process that mountaineers go through as they ascend to the summit. Decompression is rarely done for leisure dives, but for the professionals who have made their careers in diving, decompression must be regularly done to keep their body in proper condition.

Imagine that you are in a job where it is your duty to dive into cold, frigid waters. You are tasked to go to a certain dive depth in order to accomplish your mission. While this may be the normal hazard of the job, there are some days where the water is just a little too cold, the waves are a little bit higher, or the rains a little heavier than you want it to be. During extreme situations, the normal decompression process is impossible lest you risk more danger. Decompression chambers curb these risks by allowing the divers to shortcut the process and decompress on the surface instead.

Decompression chambers are heavily used in research, technical missions, and professional diving charters. They are also used by navy units, commercial vessels, and hospitals. Decompression chambers vary in shape and size depending on the intended use. One-person compartments in hospitals are usually preferred for patients who need calibrated pressure. In the field, multi-person compartments are used, so three to four divers can fit inside. Using decompression chambers during dive missions should be coordinated with mission control where the medical staff closely monitors the status of the divers.

It is important for scuba divers to remember that decompression chambers are not an easy escape for decompression stops and should only be used in cases where decompression stops are not a possibility or under emergency situations. Decompressions stops (safety stops) are a vital and must always be done when descending to deeper depths.


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