To assess the effects of deep saturation dives on pulmonary function, static and dynamic lung volumes, transfer factor for carbon monoxide (T1CO), delta-N2, and closing volume (CV) were measured before and after eight saturation dives to pressures of 3.1-4.6 MPa. The atmospheres were helium-oxygen mixtures with partial pressures of oxygen of 40-60 kPa. The durations of the dives were 14-30 days. Mean rate of decompression was 10.5-13.5 kPa/hour. A total of 43 divers were examined, six of whom took part in two dives, the others in one only. Dynamic lung volumes did not change significantly but total lung capacity (TLC) increased significantly by 4.3% and residual volume (RV) by 14.8% (p less than 0.05). CV was increased by 16.7% (p less than 0.01). The T1CO was reduced from 13.0 +/- 1.6 to 11.8 +/- 1.7 mmol/min/kPa (p less than 0.01) when corrected to a haemoglobin concentration of 146 g/l. Effective alveolar volume was unchanged. The increase in TLC and decrease in T1CO were correlated (r = -0.574, p less than 0.02). A control examination of 38 of the divers four to six weeks after the dives showed a partial normalisation of the changes. The increase in TLC, RV, and CV, and the decrease in T1CO, could be explained by a loss of pulmonary elastic tissue caused by inflammatory reactions induced by oxygen toxicity or venous gas emboli.
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