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Caisson Disease 1

    Naturevolume 79pages4042 (1908) | Download Citation



    MEN who have been working in compressed air, either under water in diving dresses or diving bells, in caissons used in preparing foundations for bridges, &c., or in making shafts or tunnels through watery ground, are liable to a variety of symptoms known generally as “caisson disease.” These symptoms, which come on only at or shortlv after the return to atmospheric pressure, vary in severity from pains in the muscles and joints, known as “bends” or “screws,” to paralysis and even death. Paul Bert showed experimentally thirty years ago that these attacks are due to the fact that air (chiefly nitrogen) which has been dissolved in the fluids and tissues of the body while under pressure, may, on decompression, be liberated in the form of bubbles, which produce local or general blocking of the circulation or other injuries. He also showed that if decompression were effected sufficiently slowly, the excess of air which had been taken up could escape by diffusion through the lungs, and thus bubbling and symptoms could be avoided. The phenomenon is, in fact, that of decompressing soda-water by pushing in the stopper; the problem of the prevention of caisson disease is how to push it in so slowly that the gas can escape without forming bubbles, and without the loss of so much time that the primary object of the manoeuvre is frustrated.

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