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A decompression chamber, also known as a re-compression or hyperbolic oxygen therapy chamber, is a device most commonly used in the world of scuba diving. It is a compartment where atmospheric pressure can be raised or lowered gradually. This allows divers and/or those who work underwater to readjust to normal atmospheric pressure after resurfacing from a dive rather than make decompression stops while still underwater.
As any good diver who paid attention to his basic training knows, underwater pressure is directly proportional to the increase in water depth. The deeper a person goes, the greater the atmospheric pressure and the more likely that the changing interplay of gasses will begin to come into play. There's a lot of physics involved in scuba diving, but the most important issue here is that increasing pressure correlates to increased absorption of nitrogen.
The deeper someone goes, the more nitrogen enters his system. Too much nitrogen in the body for an extended period of time can lead to a lot of very bad things, including death. Of course, there are other risks involved in an increase in atmospheric pressure, but too much nitrogen is perhaps one of the most dangerous.
Divers fight this phenomenon by taking care to ascend slowly and also by making decompression stops along the way. This ensures that, as the body acclimates to the decreasing pressure, the nitrogen bubbles do not become too large to exit the system and are safely expelled through proper breathing. Some situations, however, such as extremely choppy waters, predatory sharks, and grave injuries, would deem a slow ascension and/or decompression stops highly dangerous, if not altogether impossible.
This is where the decompression chamber comes in. It is a very beneficial tool in ensuring diver safety, especially when diving in dangerous waters. Once out of the water, a chamber is the only way a diver can safely change the atmospheric pressure around him, allowing him to normalize the levels of certain gasses in his system. This can potentially save his life from a lethal case of nitrogen narcosis, as well as a vast array of other pressure-related diseases, such as oxygen toxicity and decompression sickness.
A decompression chamber is a staple in most scientific, technical, or otherwise professional diving charters. It can be found on certain navy vessels, a few large-scale dive liveaboards, and some hospitals. These devices come in various sizes, but they will always need to be big enough to enclose the whole body. One can be multiplace, a multi-person compartment, or monoplace, a one person compartment; the former is preferred for more serious illnesses, as it can fit both a patient and a nurse or doctor. When diving, it is always important to know where the nearest decompression chamber is, how to reach it, and how to contact its staff. Its use should always be supervised by a knowledgeable and well-trained medical officer.
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