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Diving Hyperb Med. 2019 Jun 30;49(2):112-118. doi: 10.28920/dhm49.2.112-118.

The utility and safety of hypoxia experiences for rebreather divers.

Author information

Department of Anaesthesiology, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.
Department of Anaesthesia, Auckland City Hospital, Auckland.
Department of Exercise Sciences, University of Auckland.
Corresponding author: Associate Professor Nicholas Gant, Department of Exercise Sciences, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand,



Aircrew training often includes an hypoxic experience aimed at improving symptom recognition and self-rescue in a subsequent hypoxic event. Similar training has been advocated for rebreather divers. We investigated the effect of a prior hypoxic experience on actual and perceived cognitive function during subsequent hypoxia and measured the physiological responses to severe progressive hypoxia.


Twenty-five subjects underwent two hypoxic hypoxia experiences (trials one and two) approximately five weeks apart. Subjects breathed 5.5% oxygen whilst performing a playing card recognition test. The primary endpoint was the time taken to make three consecutive errors in the card recognition test (time of useful consciousness, TUC). Secondary endpoints were the total number of errors made, accuracy of error recollection and physiological variables.


Mean (SD) TUC was 166 seconds (37) and 169 s (35), and subjects made 8.9 (2.4) and 7.8 (2.0) errors in trials one and two respectively. Error recall was identical between trials with participants failing to recall 6 (3) and 6 (2) errors made in trials one and two respectively. Across both trials mean nadir arterial blood and cerebral oxygen saturations were 52% and 49% respectively. The mean (SD) increase in heart rate was 42 (16) beats·min⁻¹.


An hypoxic experience did not improve cognitive performance or subject insight into performance in a second exposure five weeks later. Hypoxia imposes a significant physiological stress which may be hazardous in unscreened, non-medically supervised subjects. Hypoxia experience training is not recommended for rebreather divers at this time.


Aviation; Brain; Diving; Near infrared spectroscopy; Oximetry; Performance; Training

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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