How do decompression chambers work?

(Image credit: Alf van Beem)

Question by Penny Walters

Hyperbaric chambers work by reproducing high atmospheric pressure to reverse the symptoms of decompression sickness (‘the bends’). When scuba
diving, nitrogen from a diver’s air tank dissolves into their bloodstream. Ascending too quickly causes a rapid pressure drop and bubbles of nitrogen to form, a bit like when you open a fizzy drink. Symptoms can include muscle pain and fatigue. By subjecting a person suffering from the bends to increased pressure, the nitrogen in their blood is forced back into solution, relieving the symptoms. By gradually reducing the pressure inside the chamber the patient is brought back to normal air pressure.


Answered by Alexandra Cheung for Brain Dump in How It Works issue 102.

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