Inert gas narcosis in scuba diving, different gases different reactions

ROAD Project Investigators

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


PURPOSE: Underwater divers face several potential neurological hazards when breathing compressed gas mixtures including nitrogen narcosis which can impact diver's safety. Various human studies have clearly demonstrated brain impairment due to nitrogen narcosis in divers at 4 ATA using critical flicker fusion frequency (CFFF) as a cortical performance indicator. However, recently some authors have proposed a probable adaptive phenomenon during repetitive exposure to high nitrogen pressure in rats, where they found a reversal effect on dopamine release.

METHODS: Sixty experienced divers breathing Air, Trimix or Heliox, were studied during an open water dive to a depth of 6 ATA with a square profile testing CFFF measurement before (T0), during the dive upon arriving at the bottom (6 ATA) (T1), 20 min of bottom time (T2), and at 5 m (1.5 ATA) (T3).

RESULTS: CFFF results showed a slight increase in alertness and arousal during the deep dive regardless of the gas mixture breathed. The percent change in CFFF values at T1 and T2 differed among the three groups being lower in the air group than in the other groups. All CFFF values returned to basal values 5 min before the final ascent at 5 m (T3), but the Trimix measurements were still slightly better than those at T0.

CONCLUSIONS: Our results highlight that nitrogen and oxygen alone and in combination can produce neuronal excitability or depression in a dose-related response.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)247-255
Number of pages9
JournalEuropean Journal of Applied Physiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019


  • Adult
  • Arousal
  • Brain/drug effects
  • Diving/adverse effects
  • Flicker Fusion
  • Helium/adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Inert Gas Narcosis/physiopathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nitrogen/adverse effects


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