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Undersea Biomed Res. 1979 Sep;6(3):251-8.

Diffusion-dependence of pulmonary gas mixing at 5.5 and 9.5 ATA.


Gas-phase diffusivity is inversely proportional to pressure, so mixing of inspired gas in the lung can be expected to be poor in hyperbaric environments. Subjects performed multiple-breath wash-in of a mixture (4% each of SF6, Ar, Ne, and He; 21% O2, 63% N2) at 1.5, 5.5, and 9.5 ATA. At the higher pressures there were marked differences of concentrations between the indicator gases, measured by mass spectrometer at the mouth during a single expiration. Compared to heavier gases, light gases fell from dead space concentration to the "alveolar" level sooner, had a flatter plateau, and had a lower average expired concentration, indicating that more of the light gases were retained in the Functional Residual Capacity (FRC) after the breath. However, wash-in rates for the indicators were about the same; a rapid initial rate for He diminished so that it was about the same as the SF6 rate, because in later breaths a back pressure developed for He. The findings illustrate the basic principle that the amount of gas that diffuses from one location to another in a container depends not only on diffusivity, but also in an interdependent manner on concentration gradient, time for diffusion, and configuration of the container.

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