First aid oxygen treatment of divers with decompression sickness

Grant ID: EMSS-314R26-2016

Project Summary

Decompression sickness (DCS), commonly called the bends, involves formation of gas bubbles in the body following scuba diving. These bubbles can cause a variety of problems, ranging from minor aches and pain, to severe stroke-like symptoms. Providing pre-hospital oxygen therapy at the highest concentration possible provides needed oxygen to body tissues, reduces bubbles and can often relieve symptoms. Oxygen has been shown to reduce the number of hyperbaric treatments a diver with DCS will require so improving pre-hospital oxygen delivery will lead to decreased hospital costs. However, the ideal oxygen delivery system has not been determined.

Using new techniques and equipment, this research will identify the optimal device for delivering oxygen to divers with DCS leading to recommendations which will improve the health outcomes of injured divers. We will measure how effectively varied breathing devices deliver oxygen to the body tissues and remove bubbles from the diver’s blood while assessing innovative equipment. This study will assess a new commercially available oral mask to improve oxygen delivery with a demand system. A medical oxygen re-breather, which like an anaesthetic machine absorbs carbon dioxide and adds small amounts of oxygen to the breathing circuit, will be also assessed.

Assessing the use of these devices will not only determine their efficacy to deliver oxygen to injured divers but also provide guidance on appropriate systems to use for dive operators with limited medical oxygen. Assessing the change in bubble grade with oxygen delivery will add evidence for its use. This research will provide information that can guide pre-hospital and emergency clinicians when choosing the type of oxygen delivery devices used for injured divers improving patient outcomes and decreasing costs.

Leveraged Funds

- > $240 (in-kind consumables)


Journal publications
- Blake D.F., Crowe M., Lindsay D., Brouff A., Mitchell S.J., Pollock N.W., "Comparison of tissue oxygenation achieved breathing oxygen from a demand valve with four different mask configurations", 'Diving and Hyperbaric Medicine', 2018;48(4):209–217. doi: 10.28920/dhm48.4.209-217.

-Blake D. & Brouff A., "A comparison of the tissue oxygenation achieved breathing oxygen from a demand valve using four different mask configurations", The Townsville Hospital grand rounds, June 18, 2018. Oral presentation
- Blake D., "A comparison of the tissue oxygenation achieved breathing oxygen from a demand valve using four different mask configurations" . James Cook University PhD cohort research conference, 2018. Oral presentation


Amount Awarded


Grant Scheme


Principal Investigator:
Dr Denise Blake

Co Investigators:
Dr Melissa Crowe
A/Prof Peter Aitken
A/Prof Simon Mitchell
Dr Neal Pollock

Associate Investigators:
Ms Derelle Young


Collaborating Institutions

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