What are the benefits of diving with Nitrox vs. diving with regular air? In this article, we explain the pros & cons.
Diving with nitrox vs. diving with regular compressed air
Nitrox is an abbreviation of Nitrogen-Oxygen the basic content of the air we breathe every day. In the diving community, we use the term to identify any blend of air, especially those that have a mix different from our usual 79% nitrogen / 21% oxygen plus minute parts of other gasses.
In recreational diving, we use the term Enriched Air Nitrox or EANx, for a breathing gas blend with a higher percentage of oxygen than the usual air we breathe.
In the 1970s, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) established standards for Nitrox diving. They established Nitrox-I containing 32% oxygen and Nitrox-II containing 36% oxygen.
Back then commercial gas blending businesses made these blends available for the early adopters and the recreational diving training agencies adapted the NOAA dive tables and retained the Nitrox-1 and Nitrox-2 percentages as Nitrox-32% and Nitrox-36%. Later these labels became the EAN-32 and EAN-36 we are used to seeing today.
Today many divers are certified to dive with Nitrox and the costs of blending are much lower making it economically viable for dive centers to start blending nitrox themselves.
Does the use of Nitrox effect my dives?
In the majority of dives, it is the amount of nitrogen that is absorbed that dictates your bottom time / No decompression limit (NDL) The higher the partial pressure of nitrogen the greater the absorption rate, which means it takes less time to match the NDL.
The NDL is the estimated time at a certain depth for our body to absorb more nitrogen than can be released during a direct ascent to the surface. If we reach the surface with too much nitrogen remaining in our body tissue, we increase our risk of Decompression Sickness (DCS)
Should you choose Nitrox instead of air?
The shifted percentage of nitrogen and oxygen when diving with Nitrox has, at least, two benefits compared to diving with regular compressed air.
The most important benefit of diving with Nitrox is that it will give you more bottom time. Because there is less nitrogen in the air your breath less nitrogen will be absorbed which gives you more time at depth compared to regular air.
The second benefit of diving with Nitrox is that you can use Nitrox to plan more conservative dives. When you plan your dive based on the regular air tables / or air settings on your dive computer and you use Nitrox instead you plan your dive more conservative reducing the risk further of DCS.
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