Why are we interested in physiology of diving and hyperbaric medicine?
Scuba diving is an increasingly popular recreational sport. The boundaries of recreational diving are expanding with the exploration of deeper wrecks and underwater caves and the recruitment of ever younger divers. Ambient pressure increases with depth altering cardiovascular and respiratory physiology. The increased partial pressures of gases at depth results in a number of potentially life threatening clinical conditions including decompression illness ('the bends'), oxygen toxicity and inert gas narcosis. Further research is necessary to elucidate the pathophysiology underlying these conditions, to delineate any long term sequelae and to optimise treatment.
Hyperbaric oxygen treatment (breathing oxygen under conditions of increased partial pressure) has been found to be an effective treatment for a number of medical conditions including carbon monoxide toxicity, radiation induced bone and bladder damage, poorly healing wounds, gas gangrene and severe anaemia. The effects of hyperbaric oxygen on cardiovascular physiology, immune system function and coagulation require further clarification.